By Dr. Nicole M. Lombardo, PT, DPT
If you are a regular gym-goer, you’ve learned that the human body adapts to what we train it for. Whether you know it or not, most of us are training to be really strong DESK WARRIORS!
The United States as a whole is getting really good at sitting at a desk in front of a computer or hunching over a smartphone (look out 2018 Reebok Desk Games, here we come!). We are taking the shape of our desk chairs as our hips become used to being flexed and our shoulders become used to rounding forward.
I️ see patients all the time who suddenly start having low back or shoulder pain, but never sustained an actual injury. They come to me saying, “my shoulder hurts, but I didn’t do anything to it.” The diagnosis is almost always sitting with poor posture for too long, and their body has simply decided to say “that’s enough!”
As athletes, we have to be particularly aware of this. Despite the 1-2 hours we spend training at the gym, we spend 8 sedentary hours at our desk. During gym hours, we are shocking our joints as we move our bodies and barbells at fast/intense speeds after spending most of our days in the unnatural and immobile position.
Yes, sitting at a desk is an unnatural position for us as humans. We were not built to sit.
I could spend hours talking about desk posture and why we need to be cognizant of it in order to be better athletes (yay for future blog posts), but today I’m going to talk about the shoulder, and more specifically the FORWARD SHOULDER. Shoulder injuries, aches and pains are probably one of the more popular things people come to talk to me about.
The science of what your body is experiencing:
The shoulder is the most mobile, and therefore the most unstable joint in the body. There are over 10 muscles that work as levers to make the joint move in all different directions. Unfortunately these muscles have been de-trained to sit at a desk. Throughout life, how often are we lifting things overhead, or pushing and pulling our body weight? Uhhhhh…. Never. Unless you have a physically demanding job.
This disuse of our shoulder causes the surrounding muscles to fire incorrectly which makes the joint move in suboptimal ways- ways that are great at helping us type at a computer, but not so great at helping us move functionally (i.e pull-ups, push-ups, overhead presses).
The shoulder should sit in the middle of the joint (see below). The forward shoulder is exactly what it sounds like- it shifts forward in the joint. The muscles in the front of the shoulder get tight and the muscles in the back of the shoulder get weak. When moving our body weight and trying to lift a barbell with our joint in this forward position, it can cause pain, pinching and/or a feeling of weakness in that arm.
The “Body-hack” to Beat the Forward Shoulder
Whether you have pain or not, I suggest the following simple exercises to add to your work day and/or gym warm up to help avoid and/or fix the dreaded forward shoulder.
If you suffer from the symptoms of forward shoulder- DON’T PANIC! This can be fixed. But also remember, it took years for your shoulder to train itself to be forward, it will take some time to make it better.
For useful tips on how to prevent this type of injury and to learn how to correct desk posture read our Tip of the month here.
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