Shoulder blade stabilization is essential for neck posture and spine health during exercise and in everyday life. Do you ever feel tight in your upper shoulders? Do you have back pain during exercise? Continue reading.
Shoulder rounding tends to follow incorrect neck posture. Conversely, stabilizing the scapulae by “straightening” the shoulders make correcting one’s neck posture easier. Shoulder blade stabilization keeps muscles of the neck and upper back from from being overstressed. Over time, over stressed muscles become painful and weak. As a result, doing everyday activities becomes more difficult. For athletes such as lacrosse players and baseball pitchers, performance can suffer.
Be aware of scapular stabilization even if the spine or arms aren’t moving.
About the scapulae
Unlike the knee or the elbow, the shoulder blades have no stabilizing ligaments. Instead, the ligaments of the scapulae attach them to the ends of the collar bone, leaving the rest of the blade with a wide range of movement.
Muscles serve as stabilizers for the scapulae. Namely, these are rhomboid and and serratus anterior muscles. They attach to the edges of the scapulae and connect them with the neck and the ribs. They serve as stabilizers. Others muscles, such as the rotator cuff muscles, stretch and contract to rotate, tilt, raise, and lower the shoulder blades.
How to stabilize scapulae and neck
Stabilized scapulae mean that the shoulder blades are in a neutral position. The neutral position of the scapulae should be the start and finishing positions of most exercises. Failure to achieve a neutral position is like closing a dress in an Uber door or a coat in an elevator door. The following table shows the range of motion for the scapulae:
The specialized positions are why it’s necessary to achieve proper positioning of the neck and shoulders.
NOTE: There is a distinction between a neutral and natural scapular position. The natural resting position of the shoulder blades is along the rib cage. However, because of factors such as genetics, a neutral position can vary from person to person. Therefore, it’s best to consult a Pilates instructor, a physical therapist, massage therapist, or other body worker for help with finding the neutral position of the scapulae.
What about the neck? The cervical spine should hold its natural curve while balancing skull directly above shoulders. It should in most cases continue the line created by thoracic spine in neutral position and during flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation. The same thing goes while lying down.
With the neck and shoulders stabilized, the exercises can begin. Stretching and strengthening the muscle groups of the upper back are necessary maintenance that aid injury prevention.
Reminders for shoulder stabilization:
- Stability, not stiffness/rigidity
- Maintain a sense of width across the front and back of shoulder girdle
- Avoid over-rounding/over-squeezing shoulder blades
- When gliding (across rib cage, (i.e., doing shoulder shrugs)) scapulae should not come away from rib cage
- The cervical spine follows the line of the thoracic spine (upper back), and…
- Scapulae react to movement of thoracic spine and cervical spine
- All curling exercises should begin with neck and shoulders in neutral position
- Then, curling forward begins with a head nod and shoulder abduction
- Core muscles power movement
Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2013 Oct; 8(5): 617–629. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3811730/
Stott Pilates. https://www.merrithew.com/stott-pilates/warmup/en/principles/head-neck-placement