Pilates and Shoulder Health

Pilates and Shoulder Health ~ Pilates Improves Shoulder Function

The rotator cuff muscles consist of four small muscles that connect the scapula or shoulder blade to the head of the humerus or upper arm. Tendons from these muscles and supporting ligaments make up the rotator cuff of the shoulder. The rotator cuff functions to stabilize the head of the humerus in the relatively shallow shoulder joint. Injury to the rotator cuff results in pain and decreased range of movement. A big problem for sports related movements and activities of every day living.

Strengthening and stretching these muscles are critical for good shoulder mobility. The four muscles include supraspinatus, teres minor, infraspinatus and subscapularis. Specific Pilates exercises target each of these muscles.

The muscles move the shoulder as follows:

• Supraspinatus abducts the arm away from the body and is active when the arm is raised
• Subscapularis internally rotates the arm and is active when the arm turns toward the body
• Infraspinatus & teres minor externally rotate the arm and are active when the arm turns out

Even more importantly, the rotator cuff muscles work to maintain the head of the humerus in the correct position during movement of the arm. The humerus needs to glide and slide in the shoulder joint. If this doesn’t occur properly, the head of the humerus bangs against the rotator cuff of the shoulder potentially causing injury.

Using the shoulder blades as an anchor, the rotator cuff muscles keep the humerus in proper position during movement. The cue “glide your shoulder blades down your back” during arm exercises is meant to stabilize this “anchor” and allow the humerus to glide and slide smoothly.

Range of Motion is Critical

Range of motion in the shoulder is also critical to good shoulder function. Stretching is as important as strengthening. Minimum flexibility standards (as excerpted from Johnson in Treat Your Own Rotator Cuff) are as follows:

• Flexion: Lie on your back with your arm at your side and then lift your arm towards your head. All the way up by your ear is 180 degrees; Normal flexibility for men is 160゚ and 167゚ for women.
• Internal rotation: In a standing position, reach behind your back to your shoulder blades. Normal for men is 1/2 inch above the tip (or bottom) of the shoulder blade (T6) and one inch above the tip for women (T5).
• External rotation: In a standing position with your elbow bent at 90゚ and the arm pointing in front of you, rotate your arm away from your body with the elbow bent. Normal for men is 72゚ and 78゚ for women.

Strengthen and stretch your rotator cuff for good shoulder health to keep you performing at your maximum ability whether you are an elite athlete or just looking to improve activities of daily living. Your shoulders, spine and hips contribute to a strong Core.

Build your Core for More!

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