Have you ever injured one of your shoulders and found yourself unable to lift your arm or carry anything of substance? I have, and it was a frustrating and painful experience. I had a calcium deposit about the size of a quarter on my right shoulder. Uncertain as to how it occured, and being an avid swimmer, the summer after my shoulder healed I invested in an hour’s time with a swim coach to determine if something in my freestyle stroke might have contributed over many summers to the creation of the problem. The Southern California Orthopedic Institute has a description of calcium deposits in the shoulder, and I find it entertaining that the picture at the top of the page is of a swimmer doing freestyle! My calcium deposit was ameliorated by a cortisone shot followed by 12 weeks of physical therapy.
strong and long
Stand up for a moment and, if possible, take a look at yourself in a mirror. Are you slouching? You can slouch for any number of reasons, including being over 6 feet tall and not wanting to tower over others. However, slouching often means you have a weak shoulder girdle. Your shoulder girdle, what you might refer to as your pecs, consists of two bones, one on each side of your body – the clavicle and the scapula. The clavicle is your collar bone, and it connects your axial skeleton to your appendages at the scapula, which is your shoulder bone.
Ideally, when standing, your head, shoulder girdle and pelvis are in alignment. Part of our role as yoga teachers is to guide students in devloping proper balance and body alignment. Please take special note that while Michael focused his shoulder talk on dealing with rotator cuff impingement, I am including only his points related to building and maintaining healthy shoulders. The bulk of what comes next is taken from the handout he provided. Any information in [brackets] is added by me.
TIPS FOR THE FITNESS PROFESSIONAL
- Address muscular imbalances related to forward facing head and shoulders.
- Address postural imbalances of the head, shoulder girdle and pelvis while in a standing position. [Yoga teachers should always be reminding students to focus on the proper alignent of any pose.]
- Incorporate poses that encourage scapulothoracic and glenohumeral stability, such as plank and side-plank. For a more detailed look at plank pose, visit this article on 7 Health Benefits of Plank Exercises by Jacky Miller, a yoga teacher based in New Zealand. [Scapulothoracic refers to "the site of movement between the scapula (shoulder blade) and the thorax (chest wall)." Glenohumeral refers to the joint between the humerus and the scapula.]
Brown University has a wonderful set of pages devoted to Shoulder Therapy for the Competitive Athlete, including pages on shoulder anatomy and the rotator cuff,
P.S. As for my session with the swim coach, she observed that during my stroke I was crossing my forearm over my midline as my hand entered the water. She said that in a proper freestyle stroke my forearm should guide my hand into the water along my side, in alignment with my shoulder. Ah, it’s always about proper alignment. She gave me the following suggestions for my freestyle:
- head position should be eyes and head down (though I always look to hold my head at the sweet spot, the place where my forehead is about halfway out of the water and I seem to glide through the water, as defined for me by a swim coach at a swim clinic I took 13 years ago)
- drive hand deeper
- stay on wide tracks (my hands should go in at the side, not at the center of my body)
- stay long on breath (my lead hand stays out front, gliding, until the stroke hand enters the water)