The arm is attached to the rest of the body by one, relatively small joint, called the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. This joint comprises of the top and front section of your shoulder blade, which is called the acromion, and the collarbone (the clavicle). The collar bone is the first bone to start ossifying (hardening) in a human fetus, but it is the last bone to completely develop- often around late teens/early twenties. You can break your collarbone, sprain the ligaments of the AC joint, and dislocate the joint all together. But the main joint where the majority of injuries occur is the glenohumeral joint, the main shoulder joint, made up from the humerus and the shoulder blade (scapula).
The glenohumeral joint is a ball-and-socket joint consisting of cartilage, ligaments and the capsule. The muscles which control the movement of this joint are called the rotator cuff muscles. There are many other muscles which control scapula movement and provide stability of the shoulder, including the deltoids and trapezius.
Some may see the shoulder as one joint, but the complex consists of the main glenohumeral joint, the acromioclavicular and the sternoclavicular joint. These work together with the scapulothoracic joint to achieve normal shoulder range of motion. If these joints are not able to work together sufficiently, it leads onto many different injuries.
The shoulder, upper back and neck pain is a common problem for many people, one of the reasons is due to having a lack of thoracic spine mobility (upper back). It has become increasingly popular for us to develop a posture which we call upper crossed syndrome. This posture can develop from many reasons. We usually tend to see it due to being slouched over whilst on a computer, chilling on the sofa, and being on our phones.
So what is Upper Crossed Syndrome?
With UCS, we typically tend to see a rounded shoulder posture/‘kyphosis”, causing a lengthening of your back muscles such as your ‘Traps’ and some of your Rotator Cuff muscles, and a tightening of your anterior muscles such as the chest/’Pecs’. In order to compensate for a lack of mobility in our thoracic spine, we start to overload structures within the shoulder, neck, and even the lower back. This can lead to a whole new world of other problems!
SO, it’s important to aid your thoracic mobility for the prevention of future injuries. We particularly need a movement called thoracic extension (leaning backwards). Here’s a few little exercises you can do in your own time. For safety, if you are aware of any injuries within your spine, or if you have been advised not to do exercises like these from a medical professional, please do not carry them out.
1. Thoracic foam rolling (NB, if you don’t have access to a foam roller at home, you are able to perform this through leaning over a soft step such as the stairs). Lean against the foam roller with your upper back, where you can roll up and down, and can start to lean backwards when you feel some tightness. Don’t hold your breath!
2. Thoracic stretching, if you find kneeling on all fours too uncomfortable, follow the last image where you are lying on your back! Aim for 10 rotations each side, if you’re going for the stretch, hold for 20-30 seconds.
Aim to do this at least once a day or more if you can achieve it!