As a dancer, I never quite understood the importance of shoulder health or stability. After all, it was my legs and trunk doing most of the work to support me, right? Wrong! Now, after observation and experience, I understand that a strong back and shoulders produce powerful, clean, and controlled por de bras, soften the blow of choreographed falls, aid in balance, and are the basis for support in all sorts of lifts. I also noticed that all of my clients who had healthy shoulders had strong, healthy backs as well!


Muscles That Affect the Shoulder:

Structurally, the shoulder is comprised of the humerus, scapula, clavicle. The humerus – or upper arm bone ‐ moves around in the relatively shallow glenohumeral joint making a ball and socket articulation. The movement of the shoulder is not as simple as the movement produced at that joint, though. The scapula – or shoulder blades - also move in consort with the humerus. As you bring your arm up overhead, your scapula rotate upward away from your spine. They can also round forward (protraction) or pull back (retraction). Part of having a healthy shoulder is not only having proper positioning of the shoulder at rest, but also making sure that the motion of the arm and the scapula is coordinated. (And if you're sports player, check out this safe shoulder dynamic warm-up)


The healthy shoulder is capable of an incredible range of motion. This is due in part to its relatively shallow joint socket. Because the joint lacks depth though, it also lacks stability. The key then to achieving a healthy shoulder is having good resting muscle length and adequate, balanced shoulder strength. The main muscles that play a role in this are:


· The Rotator Cuff: These little muscles originate on the scapula and attach onto the humerus. Their primary job is to stabilize and rotate the shoulder.


· Anterior Muscles: These muscles attach the bones of the shoulder girdle to the front of the thorax and include pectoralis major and minor and serratus anterior to name a few. Muscles in this group assist in pushing motions such as in the push‐up.


· Posterior Muscles: These muscles attach the bones of the shoulder girdle to the posterior – or back ‐ portion of the spine/ribcage. Some of the muscles in this group include the trapezius, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi and serratus posterior. For the most part, these muscles aid in pulling exercises such as the row or pull‐ups.


· Other Players: Additional muscles that aid in shoulder stability and strength are the deltoids which have a multitude of functions including raising and rotating the shoulder and the levator scapulae which help to shrug the shoulders.


Poor shoulder mechanics can lead to all sorts of debilitating injuries, the majority of which can progress slowly over time. It is important to attempt to prevent them before they become a persistent issue. Let's look at some easy ways to assess your own situation and incorporate some preventative techniques into your workout.


Assessing Your Own Situation:

Start by checking yourself out in the mirror while completing these exercises:


1. Overhead Motion: Lie on you back with your legs straight. With both palms facing each other, lift your arms up overhead maintaining straight elbows. Can you touch your thumbs to the floor without inducing pain or arching your back?


2. Internal Rotation: Stand normally with your palms by your side and have someone take a quick photo of you from the front and the side. Front view: Do your palms face your thighs? Side view: Is your ear directly in line with your shoulder?


3. Thoracic Mobility: Position yourself as in the picture below. Can you get both shoulders on the floor?