As we’ve previously explained, most shoulder problems go undetected until finally it’s too late and there’s a problem. We’ve also discussed that shoulder surgery and many physical therapy programs miss the mark because they fix the injury but neglect the environment that created the injury in the first place.
So the question remains,
How do I know if I have shoulder issues?
What if I don’t have shoulder pain? Doesn’t that mean everything is fine?
Remember, pain is not always an indicator that something is wrong. If you have pain, it can be a sign, but many shoulder problems actually have no pain-or minimal pain/discomfort.
Today our purpose is to give you a simple drill to help you see if you have underlying shoulder issues. This drill is not to diagnose any injury, we are not doctors. This assessment is simply to indicate that there MAY be an issue that you should investigate further with more assessments and screenings.
The Overhead Reach
To do this drill, lay flat on the ground or treatment table. Bend your knees, feet flat. While keeping your back in neutral position (no excessive arching or flattening) reach the arms overhead taking extra care to keep the arms locked out at the elbow.
What we’re looking for is that you aren’t arching your back to get more range of motion, and how close to 180 degrees you can get the arms from where you started (ie in a straight line, on the table, in line with the ears).
If you bend your arms, or can’t get there chances are most likely have some unlying shoulder problems requiring some scapular re-education.
What It Means
Going overhead takes a great deal of flexibility and mobility of the 4 joints that make up the shoulder girdle-particularly the scapulothorasic joint (shoulder blade on your back). Through age and disuse, this sliding/gliding joint often ‘glued down’ or ‘frozen’ to the ribcage making it impossible to go overhead.
To get the arm in this position, one of the movements needed most is upward rotation of the shoulder blade. If that’s not happening the shoulder problem could be 1 of 3 things. First, it could be because you are tight and it’s stuck. Second, it could be that the muscles are firing at the wrong time-similar to when your car backfires/misfires. Third, it could be a combination of the first two.
Often the best way to tackle this underlying shoulder problem is to work on mobilizing the scapula in active ranges of motion and strengthening those end ranges or tight areas so the weak muscles can overcome the tightness that’s keeping your arm from going fully overhead.