The thing about the shoulder is that it generally is the first thing to creep up around the ears if there is any form of stress or anxiety in our body. This action is not something we want to perform for long periods as it will only aid in the tension. Ask any manual materials handler what their thoughts are when asked about their shoulders, and almost always the first thing mentioned is how stiff or tense they feel, followed by not being happy with their posture. There are however, very small and simple activities that, if performed throughout the working day, will begin to bring alignment, mobility and reduced tension into the shoulder girdle.
Dr Anastasia Vasina from Soter Analytics, a global safety science company states, “Like any joint in the body, the most important thing is to keep it moving. Yes, it is true that most manual handling workers are constantly moving their shoulders however, the shoulder requires movement across all its possible capabilities in order for it to remain lubricated or well-oiled, or areas can seize up, tighten and thus be the beginning of problems or perhaps why they are already in pain”.
The complex shoulder
The shoulder girdle has what is called a ball and socket joint of which is fairly easy to understand the mechanics. A ball shaped surface on one side, being the upper arm bone, fits neatly into a cup like shape of the other, being the edge of the shoulder blade. Think of a roll-on deodorant bottle. When we think of the shoulder joint like this it is easy to see how it can rotate in all directions. Using the deodorant bottle as an example, it can be seen that to roll the ball in all directions it would stay somewhat more lubricated than to just roll it back and forth. Manual handling workers who often perform quite repetitive tasks and don’t perform movements of the shoulder using its full range or in every possible direction.
So how many different directions can the shoulder be moved? This joint is the most mobile in the body, there aren’t many directions it can’t be moved. A way to think about it is to visualise the arm as the spokes of a wheel and your shoulder joint as the hub. The arm can be rotated 360 degrees and the wheel can change direction and move across the body in the front or the back, basically circumnavigating the arm in any direction.
The shoulder blades
One other thing to be aware of is that when you move your arm, not only are you moving the joint where the upper arm bone fits into the shoulder blade socket, the shoulder blade itself then glides along the rib cage on your back at the same time. So, when the arm is moved in all directions, one could say you are not only lubricating the ball and socket joint, you are giving your shoulder blades a really nice massage!
To give the shoulder the best possible chance at staying healthy, the fundamental requirement is simply movement. It’s imperative to start slowly and move only within a comfortable zone, even if this means your mobility is very small. There is sufficient evidence now to suggest that shoulder movements are as effective as surgery or injections if the joint is suffering from any subacromial pain (painful shoulder). Remember, although simple, most of us do not move our shoulders like in the following activities during our daily lives, or at work, so give it time and have patience for the practice to produce its benefits.
- Arm Lift
At any time throughout the day
- Slowly take your arms out to the: -
- Side of your body and reach them upwards and then back down
- Out to the front of your body and reach them upwards and then back down
- Arms can be slightly bent if this is more comfortable (the end goal is to have them straight)
- Keep the space between the shoulder and your ear open
- Arm Circle
After a while of slowly repeating the Arm Lift without haste or pressure and once your range of motion begins to increase, then a full circular motion can be included, one arm at a time beginning with the following practice: -
- Stand approximately one foot away from a wall (this may be done without facing the wall).
- Place the fingers of one hand onto the same shoulder and imagine you are trying to slowly draw a large even circle on the wall with your elbow in one direction and then in the other
- Try to keep your shoulders as square to the wall as possible while you are drawing the circle
- As this becomes smoother, which could take a few weeks, perform the same movement but with a straight arm
Remember to allow the breath to flow whilst moving as this will assist the massaging and releasing of the shoulder blades via the expansion of the ribcage during inhalation.
When moving, an important thing to remember is the visualization. To help with the gliding and massaging of the shoulder blades along the ribcage, picture the smooth sliding of the muscles as this is exactly what happens with the long chains of protein filaments of muscles as they move. Or, if imagery works for your learning, imagine that you have just had oil delicately pipetted into all your moving shoulder parts.
The aim of these movements is to very slowly increase the joint fluid keeping it well-oiled and hence healthy and toned at work. Think of it as a very slow and gentle way to create space around the shoulder freeing it from tension and decreasing the likelihood of injury or pain.
- “Painful Shoulder: Exercise Can Reduce Pain and Improve Mobility and Function.” The journal of orthopaedic and sports physical therapy 50.3 (2020): 142–142. Web.