There are a lot of different things that go into shoulder health. Today we are focusing on shoulder mobility and rotator cuff strength. Future blogs will include information on shoulder blade mobility and strength, upper back mobility, and core stability. All of these areas need to work together for you to function normally and be at your best in the field this Fall!
In general, for most conditions of the body, it is important to have proper range of motion before working towards strengthening. When I work with a new client, we slowly progress them into a new range of motion and then strengthen the muscles in that new range. Any other way and we just get strong in the old range of motion but have zero strength in the new range of motion.
Stretching before strengthening helps us keep the shoulder in better condition, and is a simple way to remember this rule.
For archery athletes, keeping good flexibility in the shoulders is key to a successful hunt. Having good range of motion in the shoulder allows bowhunters to rotate their arms toward and away from the bow as needed. Strength between the shoulder blades is equally as important. This strength keeps the hunter from shaking and enables him/her to relax the muscles of the forearm. If either of these key pieces are missing, the bow can slip from grip, shake, or be used improperly and cause pain to the hunter.
Common injuries to the shoulder include rotator cuff tendonitis, rotator cuff strain, labral tears, biceps tendinopathy, bursitis, frozen shoulder, impingement, instability, or fractures. The following exercises can help with many of the above conditions, but a proper diagnosis and discussion with a physical therapist are recommended before beginning these type of exercises.
If any of these activities cause pain, you should stop doing them.
Often times I like to incorporate some soft tissue work or self-massage into my stretching programs. This helps to increase the blood flow to the area, getting the muscles and other layers prepared for stretching. One potential reason for limited mobility in the shoulders could be stiffness in the muscles or ligaments around the shoulder. Working on the flexibility in these tissues can help ease some tension in the area, increase range of motion, and potentially decrease the pain in the area.
A racquetball is firm enough to be effective but soft enough to not cause pain. We recommend
working the ball around your shoulder, from the front to the back. Repeat with the arm overhead, with the ball near your armpit, but not in the center of your armpit. There are some tender spots in some folks, and we recommend avoiding the areas that cause pain.
After you have warmed up with some soft tissue work, it can be a good idea to work on your general shoulder mobility for overhead motions. There are a lot of different ways to stretch, but I prefer activities that require you to move and use your core muscles. We rarely use any joint in by itself, so it is nice to include full body movement and strengthening into your stretches when appropriate.
Stretching over a ball allows you to stretch through your entire range of motion, and in multiple
directions. When stretching for a warm-up, 15 seconds is enough hold time, but if you are stretching and trying to increase your range of motion a 30-second hold is better. We recommend 2-3 repetitions with arms going forward, 2-3 repetitions with the arms to the left, and 2-3 repetitions with the arms to the right. If you experience pain during this motion, try it with your hands farther apart from each other, and make sure you move slower and with control to keep from over flexing your shoulder.
This is a more specific stretch for those of you with a lack of range motion.
Check out the video for how to perform this stretch well.
If you’re not sure if this stretch applies to you, try each of these motions:
1. Reach up and behind your head, trying to touch your hand to the top of your shoulder blade
on the same side. If you can do this easily, you probably don’t need this stretch. If you can’t do
this, it is very difficult, or it causes pain you likely lack some external rotation.
2. Reach down and back, behind your back, trying to touch your hand to the bottom of the
shoulder blade on the same side. Again, if this is easy for you, don’t worry about your range of
motion. If you have pain or struggle with performing this, you likely lack internal rotation.
This is one of my all-time favorite exercises. It involves a lot of muscles at the same time and is a
great strengthening exercise. Athletes use this exercise a lot to help them stay strong in their sport. This exercise strengthens the muscles needed to draw a bow and keep it level and steady.
Start with lying on your stomach on a stable surface with your arm hanging off of that surface.
Next, squeeze your shoulder blade and lift your arm with your elbow bent and pointed away from you. Then, rotate your shoulder to bring your hand closer to the ceiling. Try to rotate as high as your arm will let you without cheating (moving your elbow or lifting your chest off of the table). Finish by slowly rotating your hand back down, then relaxing the shoulder blade.
Try for at least 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
This exercise uses several different motions, and also allows us to strengthen into internal rotation. Having equal strength in both the front and back of your shoulder while rotating is very important for maintaining mobility and stability through the shoulder.
Start with the band anchored behind you, and your straightened arm out to the side slightly above shoulder height. Pull the band across your body in the direction of your opposite hip, keeping a tall chest through the motion. We recommend 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions with this exercise as well.
Dr. Judice is the owner of Judice Sports & Rehab in the St. Louis, MO area. He earned his doctorate from Saint Louis University and has been honored with the distinction of Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. To learn more about the shoulder from Dr. Judice, or to become a patient, visit www.shoulderexpertstlouis.com for information.