I adore the Autumn season when the leaves drop, baring the branches for winter-on-its-way. I have one tree I refer to as the “faker” when it comes to Fall. Every year it hangs onto nearly all its leaves until it keeps getting colder and colder. It seems like they will never drop! Then without warning, one day I’ll take a look and there it is, suddenly standing proudly with a pile all around. The canopy is just gone – as if it had disrobed to show off its naked, beautiful strong branches. I can’t help but admire how the branches reach long and easily out away from the sturdy trunk.
The tree makes it look so easy to reach out limbs from end to end. Of course its DNA and architecture make it a natural element. For us human beings, our upper limbs are meant for dynamic reach – a unique feature that of gave us an evolutionary advantage. For more on how the shoulder evolved, read or listen to this NPR Story. Let’s take a closer look at the root of that limb (our arm) – the shoulder.
The shoulder girdle is comprised of the scapula and the clavicle (commonly known as the collar bone). The upper arm bone, the humerus, hangs neatly from the shallow ‘cup’ of the scapula, called the glenohumeral joint. Because of the joint’s makeup, there’s actually not much surface area contact. While this means that the joint relies heavily on ligaments, tendons, muscles and other tissues to maintain structural integrity, its design provides the arm with the greatest amount of mobility compared to any other joint in the body.
Building core-strength as we do in Pilates, helps create a good foundation for both the upper limbs and the lower body to thrive in flexibility and strength. Yet, how does the joint with the greatest potential for mobility in our bodies – an asset that brought the human race to the top of the food chain – become such a source of misery for most of us living a modern life?
Well of course, part of the answer lies in posture and how you position your neck and head. But did you realize that the scapula has the dubious honor of connecting with 17 muscle attachments? Cool that that scapula is so popular. However, the more connection points, the more opportunity for disruption of good alignment.
And going further, it also has to do with how we use our arms on a regular basis. It’s really the day-to-day activity that has the greatest amount of influence. The glenohumeral joint, is a synovial joint. Synovial fluid is essential to reducing friction in the joint; it also acts like blood does in our arteries and veins, supplying nutrients in and removing waste. But the synovial fluid doesn’t just push itself around in the joint. It relies on movement to be disbursed.
So, think about what ways you commonly use your shoulders and arms. How much time do you spend with your arms in the same position before you give them a stretch? What do you do repetitively? Compared to your most common activities, how often do you bring your arms out in full extension out to the side of your body? Stretching overhead? One arm crossing your body? How about reaching back behind you?
What can you do to move the synovial fluid all the way around the full surface of the joint? What imagery can you use to help the quality of reaching your arms out? Habits for keeping muscles tone and fascia hydrated go hand-in-hand with healthy joint movement. Find ways to use the full mobility available to your shoulders, and don’t let the daily grind wear you down.
For fun, try this Franklin “jingle bell” wrist exercise for a quick and easy shoulder release.
Then let us know how it went for you, the next time we see you in the studio!