The World on Your Shoulders

It’s much easier to click a mouse than to keep your shoulder to the wheel. These days we often delegate physical tasks, paying someone else to take care of them on our behalf rather than shouldering the responsibility ourselves. Technology, too, has replaced good old-fashioned elbow grease, significantly improving our lifestyles. But at what price?

With the burden of physical work reduced to a minimum, the average adult typically makes small, unloaded movements that only employ about 50% of the shoulders’ available function. The body gradually adapts to this limited range, the head comes forward and the shoulders round. Over time, the sculpted “S” shape of the spine becomes a “C” shape. With limited use of our arms and shoulders, we lose strength and stability, setting us up for injury.

Younger Generations Are Affected, Too

Today’s children spend more than 7 hours a day in front of a screen, whether it’s a TV, computer or mobile device. These excessive amounts of screen time are setting them up for head-forward syndrome way before middle age. Carrying overladen packs on their backs also puts unnecessary strain on young shoulders and quickly molds their spines into rounded “C” shapes.

It’s much easier to prevent a shoulder or back injury than to recover from one—so do your kids a favor by limiting their screen time, and encourage them to unload unnecessary weight from school backpacks. Your nagging now may save them a great deal of discomfort in the future.

The Shoulder Girdle and Rotator Cuff

The shoulder girdle, which comprises the shoulder blades, humerus, collarbone and sternum, literally floats on the torso, as it’s not attached to the spine. This balancing act relies on an intricate network of muscles, including a group of four muscles called the rotator cuff. This muscle group is responsible for rotating the upper arm bone outward and inward, and for swinging the arm away from the body (abduction).

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Professional and recreational athletes alike are prone to shoulder cuff problems, especially if the sport is centered on a biased movement, as in golf or baseball. The following series of exercises will awaken the rotator cuff muscles and remind the shoulders of their range and flexibility:

Shoulder Cuff Exercise

  • Lying down with the spine and head in neutral, move your arms out to a 90-degree angle from the spine. The biceps should face the ceiling.
  • Keeping the forearms in touch with the floor, bend at the elbows, creating a goal-post shape with your arms (right angles at the elbows). The palms should face the ceiling and thumbs point toward your ears.
  • Now move the forearms through 180 degrees, rotating the upper arm bone in its joint until the palms face down and the thumbs point toward the center of your torso. Try 10 slow reps.

Scapular Protraction and Retraction

  • Lying down on the floor with the spine and head in neutral, cover your ears lightly with your fingers as if you were supporting the head for an abdominal crunch.
  • Keep the head and torso in contact with the floor as you slowly bring the elbows together, then open up the elbows until they touch the floor. Try 10 slow reps.


  • Lying down with the head and spine in neutral, interlace your fingers and straighten your arms toward the ceiling.
  • Stretch the arms back over your head and then bring them back to the starting position. Try 10 slow reps.

If any of these exercises cause pain, STOP. Pain is a form of high-priority communication. It’s your body’s way of saying, “Hey, there is something seriously wrong here.” If you are suffering from a prolonged shoulder or neck issue, you should see your doctor before attempting this or any exercise program.

Related Article: 
Correcting Poor Posture with AIM Somatic Movement


Image credit: Britt-knee via Flickr (CC)

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