Posture and Shoulder Health

In my previous post I went over the scapula and how its functions can affect shoulder health. However, we have yet to look at the placement of the scapula in the back and how it works in relation to the spine. So let’s go over the importance of spine curvature and posture.

Natural curvature of the spine
Image 1

The human spine can be divided into four separate sections: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. As you can see in [Image 1] we have a natural curvature in our spine, which we call a “neutral spine.” However, our modern day lifestyle of sitting at the office and looking at a computer screen has significantly affected our posture. Taking a look at [Image 2] we can see how our body is affected by sitting with poor posture:

  • neck is cranked and head translates forward
  • thoracic spine is extremely rounded
    • inhibits the back muscles
    • tightens the chest muscles
    • shoulders round inward
  • glutes become weak
  • hamstrings become short and tight
Sitting with poor posture
Image 2

I’m sure many of you can relate to having a rounded back and head forward posture since this is how many of us find ourselves sitting!

Straight and Rounded Thoracic Spine
Image 3

So how does posture affect our scapula and shoulder health? There are many different ways in which the scapula moves, such as protraction, retraction, upward rotation, posterior tilting, etc. In order to perform all of these movements the scapula must move smoothly along our thoracic spine and ribs, which can only be optimally achieved when we have a neutral spine. When we raise our arm overhead the scapula rotates upward and must also tilt posteriorly (tilt backward) to become vertical. However, as we can see from [Image 3], a rounded thoracic spine and closed ribs result in the scapula not fully tilting to vertical. What then happens if we force our arm overhead to 180 degrees? The shoulder joint jams and can cause impingement… ouch!

At PTCF we often do thoracic extensions with the foam roller at the start of class. Not only does it feel good but we are actually doing “prehab” for our shoulders! The bretzel stretch we do is also great for thoracic mobility and increases rib mobility. Many are unaware that we actually have muscles in between our ribs! These are called the intercostal muscles [Image 4] and they become short and tight from having a rounded back posture. The mobility of the intercostals is vital for overhead movement, and these muscles even affect breathing.

Intercostal muscles
Image 4

Good posture isn’t just for ballerinas. We will be posting instructional videos on how to improve rounded back posture, so stay tuned!

Coach Gin
Instagram: @ginfujiwara

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