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How to Stabilize the Scapula During Shoulder Elevation

One of the most common compensations we see with people with limited overhead shoulder elevation is lateral winging of the scapula.  Anytime you have limited glenohumeral joint mobility, your scapulothoracic joint is going to try to pick up the slack to raise your arm overhead.

This is common in postoperative patients, but also anyone with limited shoulder elevation.

Stabilizing the scapula during range of motion is often recommended to focus your mobility more on the shoulder than the scapula.  As with everything else, as simple as this seems, there is right way, a wrong way, and a better way to stabilize the scapula during shoulder elevation.

In this video, I demonstrate the correct way to stabilize the scapula, and show some common errors that I often see.

 

How to Stabilize the Scapula During Shoulder Elevation

 

Learn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

Interested in learning more?  Join my acclaimed online program teaching you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder.  It’s a comprehensive 8-week online line program that covers everything you need to know about clinical examination, dynamic stability drills, manual therapy techniques, rotator cuff injuries, labral tears, stiff shoulders, and more.
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Is GIRD Really the Reason Why Baseball Pitchers Get Hurt?

Today’s guest post comes from Lenny Macrina, my good friend and co-owner of Champion PT and Performance.  We work with a lot of baseball players at Champion, which makes us really understand one thing – baseball pitchers are unique!  Many of our athletes come to us after going elsewhere for care but not making the progress they want.  I don’t think we are special, we just see a lot of baseball injuries, so we know what to look for in these athletes.  

Lenny does a great job here discussing a very common misconception about pitching injuries and GIRD.  Honestly, GIRD is kind of outdated.  

Lenny has conducted a ton of research on this topic and wanted to share his results.  You MUST understand the science and not get caught up in all the hype on the internet!  Read below and learn more!


 

Baseball pitchers tend to have unique amounts of mobility of their shoulders. Because of this, throwing generates tremendous forces on the shoulder.  This is important to consider when evaluating and treating baseball injuries.

All of this fancy talk basically says that throwing a baseball is technically bad for your body, and many times we see baseball pitchers with hurt shoulders and elbows.

But why?

We believe there are many reasons, but as physical therapists who have to assess and treat these baseball players, we must be aware of their unique presentation and act accordingly.

It has been well established in the literature that pitchers exhibit adaptations to their shoulder mobility from the act of throwing.   Generally, the thrower’s shoulder exhibits less internal rotation but greater external rotation compared to non-throwing side. There are many proposed reasons for these shoulder mobility changes, including bony adaptations, muscular tightness, shoulder blade position, and capsular restrictions.

This loss of internal rotation has received a lot of attention and has even been referred to as glenohumeral joint internal rotation deficit (GIRD).

 

Is GIRD really the reason why baseball pitchers get hurt?

Several authors have stated that GIRD may increase the risk of shoulder injuries in baseball pitchers. This has caused everyone to assume this and treat accordingly.

Our initial research, that we published in 2011, showed pitchers with GIRD had a 1.8 times increased risk of shoulder injury. But it was NOT statistically significant. Since then, we have published more data that shows similar trends, specifically in our paper looking at 8 consecutive seasons of injury data.

While pitchers with measured GIRD had a slightly higher rate of shoulder injury during that season, the relationship was not statistically significant and GIRD did not correlate with shoulder injuries.

Essentially, we have not shown that GIRD correlates to pitching injuries.

 

Total Motion May Be More of the Issue

Perhaps the issue really isn’t GIRD?  A more important measurement to consider in the overhead thrower is total rotational range of motion. Total rotation is defined as the sum of external rotation and internal rotation.

 

Total Rotational Range of Motion

Rather than look at internal rotation by itself, it may be more valuable to look at the combined total rotational motion of both external and internal rotation together.

In fact, we showed that pitchers with greater than a 5 degree deficit in total rotational range of motion displayed a greater risk of injury. In one study, this was a statistically significant 2.6 times increased risk of shoulder injury.

 

What About External Rotation and Shoulder Injuries?

Does GIRD Cause Baseball Pitching InjuriesCuriously enough, we also have shown a relationship between loss of external rotation mobility and shoulder injuries.  Pitchers with external rotation insufficiency were more likely to undergo surgery, 2.2 times more likely be placed on the DL for a shoulder injury, and 4.0 times more likely to undergo shoulder surgery.

Wow!  At first you would think, let’s stretch these guys out and gain external rotation. But hold on one second and let’s get a grip!

If you remember our study from 2011, we showed a high preponderance for shoulder injuries especially in the pitchers whose total motion was greater than 187 degrees.  You don’t want too little or too much motion!

So, as I always tell my students, athletes and fellow clinicians: We’re always walking a fine line between too much and not enough mobility.

 

What About Shoulder Flexion?

While internal and external rotation get all the exposure, shoulder flexion may actually be an area we see tight the most.

I think one interesting finding of our recent research has been the relationship between the shoulder flexion deficit and injury.  Pitchers with a deficit of greater than or equal to 5° in shoulder flexion of the throwing shoulder had a 2.8 times greater risk for elbow injury.

The correlation between shoulder flexion deficit and elbow injury may represent a lack of tissue mobility and overall flexibility (possibly to the latissimus dorsi) in injury-prone subjects.

The baseball pitcher has a unique mobility of the arm.  We need to be careful assuming that these abnormalities and asymmetries correlate to injury.  They often do not.

The challenge is figuring this out and keeping up with the research…as it is always evolving!  The more you work with baseball pitchers the more you appreciate these subtleties.  These are the subtleties that make them unique, and effective as athletes.

 

So, what does all of this mean?

  • Assess motion
  • GIRD not necessarily bad (actually pretty normal)
  • Lacking ER may increase risk of injury
  • Total range of motion deficits increase risk of injury
  • Shoulder flexion deficits increased elbow injury risks
  • Assess and never assume!

GIRD is not as evil as everyone makes it out to be.  Treating them unnecessarily and trying to gain internal rotation may actually make them worse.  Don’t treat without thoroughly assessing, and don’t assume GIRD is the reason why baseball pitchers get injured.

 

 

Assessing the Shoulder Shrug Sign

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on Assessing the Shoulder Shrug Sign is now available.

Assessing the Shoulder Shrug Sign

Assessing_the_Shoulder_Shrug_SignIn this inservice recording, I overview the two main types of shoulder shrug signs that I see.  The classic shrug sign typically involves either a rotator cuff injury or significant capsular hypomobility.  However, we also see shrugs in people that have poor overhead mobility.

This webinar will cover:

  • What are the different types of shoulder shrug signs?
  • How to tell if you have a mobility or motor control issue
  • The sequence I follow to determine what to choose for my treatments

To access this webinar:

How to Assess the Scapula

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Assess the Scapula is now available.

How to Assess the Scapula

How to assess scapular dyskinesisThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is a live demonstration of How to Assess the Scapula.  In this recording of a live student inservice from Champion, I overview everything you should (and shouldn’t) be looking for when assessing the scapula.  When someone has a big nerve injury with significant winging or scapular dyskinesis, the assessment of the scapula is pretty easy.  But how do you detect the subtle alterations in posture, position, and dynamic movement?  By being able to identify a few subtle findings, you can really enhance how you write a rehab or training program.

In this webinar, I’ll cover:

  • What to look for in regard to static posture and scapular position
  • How to check to see if static postural asymmetries really have an impact on dynamic scapular movement
  • What really is normal scapulothoracic rhythm (if there really is a such thing as normal!)?
  • How to reliably assess for scapular dyskinesis
  • How winging during the concentric and eccentric phases of movement changes my thought process
  • How to see if scapular position or movement is increasing shoulder pain
  • How to see if scapular position or movement is decreasing shoulder strength

To access this webinar:

A Simple Test for Scapular Dyskinesis You Must Use

A common part of my examinations includes assessing for abnormal scapular position and movement, which can simply be defined as scapular dyskinesis.  Scapular dyskinesis has long been theorized to predispose people to shoulder injuries, although the evidence has been conflicting.

Whenever data is conflicting in research articles, you need to closely scrutinize the methodology.  One particular flaw that I have noticed in some studies looking at the role of scapular dyskinesis in shoulder dysfunction has involved how the assess and define scapular dyskinesis.

Like anything else, when someone has a significant issue with scapular dyskinesis it is very apparent and obvious on examination.  But being able to detect subtle alterations in the movement of the scapula may be more clinically relevant.  There’s a big difference between someone that has a large amount of winging while concentrically elevating their arm versus someone that has a mild issues with control of the scapula while eccentrically lowering their arm.

Most people will not have a large winging of their scapula while elevating their arm.  This represents a more significant issue, such as a nerve injury.  However, a mild amount of scapular muscle weakness can change the way the scapula moves and make it difficult to control while lowering.

 

A Simple Test for Scapular Dyskinesis

One of the simplest assessments you can perform for scapular dyskinesis is watching the scapula move during shoulder flexion.  Performing visual assessment of the scapula during shoulder flexion has been shown to be a reliable and valid way to assess for abnormal scapular movement.

That’s it.  Crazy, right?  That simple!  Yet, I’m still amazed at how many times people tell me no one has ever looked at how well their scapula moves with their shirt off.

However, there is one little tweak you MUST do when performing this assessment…

You have to use a weight in their hand!

Here is a great example of someone’s scapular dyskinesis when performing shoulder flexion with and without an external load.  The photo on the left uses no weight, while the photo on the right uses a 4 pound dumbbell:

scapular dyskinesis

As you can see, the image on the right shows a striking increase in scapular dyskinesis.  I was skeptical after watching him lift his arm without weight in the photo on the left, however, everything became very clear when adding a light weight to the shoulder flexion movement.  With just a light load, the ability to prevent the scapula from winging while eccentrically lowering the arm becomes much more challenging.

I should also note that there was really no significant difference in scapular control or movement during the concentric portion of the motion raising his arms overhead:

scapular winging concentric

This person doesn’t have a significant issue or nerve damage, he simply just needs some strengthening of his scapular muscles.  But if you didn’t observe his scapula with his shirt off or with a dumbbell in his hand, you may have missed it!

 

How to Assess for Scapular Dyskinesis

In this month’s Inner Circle webinar, I am going to show you a live demonstration of how I assess scapular position and movement.  I’ve had past talks on how to assess scapular position and how to treat scapular dyskinesis, however I want to put it all together with a demonstration of exactly how I perform a full scapular movement assessment and go over things I am looking for during the examination.

I’ll be filming the video and posting later this month.  Inner Circle members will get an email when it is posted.

 

 

 

How to Assess for a Tight Posterior Capsule of the Shoulder

Over the years, the idea of posterior capsular tightness and glenohumeral internal rotation deficit (GIRD) in baseball pitchers has grown in popularity despite not much evidence.

I routinely see baseball players ranging from kids to MLB pitchers that have been told they have GIRD and need to aggressively stretch their posterior capsule and into shoulder internal rotation.  One of the first recommendations I make is essentially addition by subtraction – stop focusing on these areas!  I’ve discussed at length my feelings on why I don’t use the sleeper stretch, which is something I haven’t used in over a decade and none of my athletes have a loss of internal rotation.

Many people assume that GIRD is caused my posterior capsular tightness, without assessing the posterior capsule itself.  Blindly applying treatments without completely assessing the person is always a bad idea, especially considering GIRD may be normal and not even an issue.

Assessing the posterior capsule can be tricky and most text books continue to demonstrate the technique poorly.  I wanted to share a quick video showing how to assess the posterior capsule of the shoulder.

Perform your assessment of the posterior capsule this way and you’ll realize most people can actually sublux posteriorly and that mobilizing the posterior capsule isn’t what they need for GIRD!  Keep in mind this is applicable for athletes, you can certainly get a tight posterior capsule for many reasons, I just don’t think this is the primary cause of GIRD so shouldn’t be the primary treatment.

Learn Exactly How I Evaluate and Treat the Shoulder

If you are interested in mastering your understanding of the shoulder, I have my acclaiming online program teaching you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder!

shoulder seminarThe online program at takes you through an 8-week program with new content added every week.  You can learn at your own pace in the comfort of your own home.  You’ll learn exactly how I approach:

  • The evaluation of the shoulder
  • Selecting exercises for the shoulder
  • Manual resistance and dynamic stabilization drills for the shoulder
  • Nonoperative and postoperative rehabilitation
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Shoulder instability
  • SLAP lesions
  • The stiff shoulder
  • Manual therapy for the shoulder

The program offers 21 CEU hours for the NATA and APTA of MA and 20 CEU hours through the NSCA.

Click below to learn more:

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How to Know When to Push a Stiff and Painful Shoulder

If you have ever worked with someone with a stiff and painful shoulder, you know how challenging it can be to gain motion.  Regardless of if this is a postoperative shoulder, someone that gets tight from shoulder impingement, or someone with adhesive capsulitis, push too hard or too fast often backfires and causes them to get worse!

One of the more common questions I get from students and new clinicians is – “how do you know when to push range of motion.”

Luckily, there is a pretty simple way to knowing when to push a stiff and painful shoulder and when to back off.

Assess End Feel

How to Know When to Push a Stiff and Painful ShoulderIn addition to assessing the quantity of motion, you should also assess the quality of motion.  This is essentially the “end feel,” or the quality of the end range of motion.

Every joint has a normal end feel.  Some common examples are:

  • Boney: Hard end feel of two bones approximating.  Elbow extension is a good example.
  • Capsular or Ligamentous: Often described as stretching a piece of leather.  This is normal joint end feel, such as with shoulder external rotation
  • Muscular: This is more like stretching a piece of rubber, like when stretching the hamstrings
  • Tissue Approximation: When the mobility is stopped because you run out of room to move, such as during elbow or knee flexion.
  • Empty: Pain does not allow you to get to the end of the range of motion, you stop in the middle of the range.
  • Spasm: An abrupt end of the movement that feels as if the person is in pain and guarded.  This feels like the muscles are stopping the motion and spasming.

Don’t Push Through a Spasm End Feel

A simple rule I have always followed and has helped me know when to push motion with a painful and stiff shoulder is to never push through a spasm end feel.

If someone presents with a spasm end feel, your primary treatment objective should switch from trying to gain motion to trying to reduce spasm.  Attempting to push through the spasm almost always backfires.

You’ll know you can push harder when the spasm end feel changes to a capsular end feel.  That’s your cue to get more aggressive.  But…  be careful!  It’s possible to push too hard or too fast again and revert back to a spasm end feel.

Learn How I Treat the Stiff Shoulder

If you are interested in mastering your understanding of the shoulder, I have an amazing online program teaching you exactly how I evaluate and treat the shoulder!

shoulder seminarThe online program at takes you through an 8-week program with new content added every week.  You can learn at your own pace in the comfort of your own home.  You’ll learn exactly how I approach:

  • The evaluation of the shoulder
  • Selecting exercises for the shoulder
  • Manual resistance and dynamic stabilization drills for the shoulder
  • Nonoperative and postoperative rehabilitation
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Shoulder instability
  • SLAP lesions
  • The stiff shoulder
  • Manual therapy for the shoulder

The program offers 21 CEU hours for the NATA and APTA of MA and 20 CEU hours through the NSCA.

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How to Perform and Advance Rhythmic Stabilization Drills

The latest Inner Circle webinar recording on How to Perform and Advance Rhythmic Stabilization Drills is now available.

How to Perform and Advance Rhythmic Stabilization Drills

How to Perform and Advance Rhythmic Stabilization Drills Mike ReinoldThis month’s Inner Circle webinar is on How to Perform and Advance Rhythmic Stabilization Drills.  Rhythmic stabilization drills have become very popular since I discussed in my DVD Optimal Shoulder Performance several years ago.  These are easy and excellent drills to start working on dynamic stabilization.  However, I must say over the years I feel like people are getting pretty sloppy with these drills, which essentially makes them much less effective.  Just because an exercise is simple, doesn’t mean that we should be sloppy with how we perform.  In this inservice presentation, I discuss how to perform rhythmic stabilization drills and all the ways we advance them from simple to advanced.

In this webinar, we discuss:

  • Why rhythmic stabilization drills are a great way to start enhancing dynamic stability
  • How to perform basic rhythmic stabilizations
  • How to advance rhythmic stabilization drills by changing technique variables
  • How to know when to advance someone or scale back to get the most out of the drills

To access this webinar: