By: Anthony Campo

The “shoulder” as we think of it is actually comprised of a number of joints and muscles other than just the gleno-humeral joint and the deltoids. I am not going to get into a super technical analysis of all the components of the shoulder; however I am going to discuss one key principle. Although there are thousands of possible causes of shoulder pain and dysfunction, I have been seeing one trend quite a bit lately. When thinking of shoulder function, one should begin proximally at scapular function. Many times individuals will focus purely on the retraction and protraction of the scapula. Although someone might have what appears to be good scapular mobility through retraction and protraction, if the scapula is not rotating properly it could start a cycle of dysfunction and pain distally down the chain. For most pulling and pressing movements the scapula must downwardly rotate during the retraction phase, and upwardly rotate during the protraction phase. Being able to demonstrate this movement pattern will allow not only for proper force translation, but also will properly stabilize the scapula which will allows for optimal motor unit recruitment, inter/intramuscular coordination, and force production. Long story short, this equals bigger lifts with a lower chance of injury. If the scapula is not rotating properly it can lead to multiple dysfunctional patterns that can be seen through a movement assessment (Contact [email protected] for an assessment.) It is important to remember that learning a proper movement pattern first involves motor learning planning through the Central Nervous System. This means plenty of frequency in practicing this pattern is needed in order to develop the proper motor plan.
The best way I can describe downward and upward rotation of the scapula during retraction and protraction is to use your hands. Stick your hands straight out in front of you like you are about to grab two doorknobs. Pull your hands in towards your chest, and as you do this rotate your hands so that your thumbs go up and your pinkies goes down (Pinkies are mimicking acromion.) This is replicating retraction with downward rotation (your hands being the scapula.) As you press your hands back out so they are straight out in front of you, rotate your hands back so that your pinkies go up, and your thumbs turn down. This is mimicking protraction with upward rotation. Get the movement pattern down, and begin practicing it as often as possible when you are doing pulling and pressing movements!