Posture and
Shoulder Function

What is posture?

Our posture tells the story of what we do for the majority of our day and, over time, our life. It is affected by what we do for work, for sport or recreation and it also reflects our physical and mental health. Unfortunately, our bodies adapt to what we spend the majority of our time doing. Due to our sedentary lifestyles, prolonged sitting, and frequent and extended use of our phones and computers, our bodies have adapted and not for the better. Faulty posture and movement patterns may be related to:

  1. Age
  2. Activity
    • Prolonged postures in one position e.g. desk work, driving
    • Repetitive tasks e.g. factory worker, painter, cashier, overhead athlete
  3. Work environment e.g. poor ergonomics in office work station
  4. Pain, injury or illness

Changes in our posture (the alignment of our spine) can change the way we move our body, including our shoulder joints.

Our posture can change:

  • The position of our shoulder blades on our back
  • The position of the arm as it is moved or raised
  • Which muscles the body chooses to use when we are in that posture
  • How well the muscles work together to move the shoulder
  • How efficient and strong the muscles are that move the shoulder joint
  • The space available at the shoulder for movement

All of these factors can lead to rotator cuff related pain syndrome.

Let’s Test This Theory!

1. Check out the video below.

2. Now lift your arms again. Does your mobility improve and does the pain or feeling change?

Think of lifting your arm over
your head like a tug of war…

Your spine alignment is controlled by muscles including your core (abdominal muscles) and spinal muscles. If you start in good alignment you are starting in a good position. This is like when the centre of the rope is in the middle of two teams during a game of tug of war. If the rope is not centered (poor posture) your team is at a disadvantage from the start.

Your scapulothoracic muscles (the muscles that move your shoulder blades and anchor it to your rib cage) are your anchorman. If the anchorman is strong and stabilizing at the base of the team then the muscles lifting the arm (your rotator cuff) can lift more efficiently and are stronger. If the anchorman were to let go, their team would be pulled forward and those muscles lifting the arm have to work much harder to pull and lift the arm. It is much easier to lift the arm with a stable base in a good postural start position.

Sources of Shoulder Strength

The role of the rotator cuff muscles is to give stability to the shoulder joint with movement. These muscles centre the ball of the shoulder joint in the socket when you start to lift your arm and during movement. In order to work properly and remain strong, the larger muscles of the shoulder and scapulothoracic muscles of the back must support the rotator cuff muscles. This, in turn, will allow the rotator cuff muscles to function efficiently and prevent pain and injury.
  1. The posture of your entire spine is important and directly impacts how you move your shoulders. Optimal posture and stability using your core and scapular stabilizers should be incorporated into all of your shoulder exercises.
  2. Establish a strong, stable base (anchor) of support for the arm to work from.
    The scapula (shoulder blade) is the anchor for arm movement. Abnormal movement patterns of the shoulder blade are referred to as scapular dyskinesis. Weakness of the scapular stabilizers and abnormal movement of the shoulder blade may contribute to shoulder pain. The trapezius (upper, middle and lower) and serratus anterior are very important in normal shoulder function. Shoulder rehabilitation should ALWAYS include posture education and strengthening of the scapular stabilizers.
  3. Strengthen the muscles that move the arm. This includes your rotator cuff, deltoid and pectoralis muscles.