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Assessing for Lat and Teres Tightness with Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Limitations in overhead shoulder mobility are common and often a frequent source of nagging shoulder pain and decreased performance.  Any loss of shoulder elevation mobility can be an issue with both fitness enthusiasts and athletes.  Just look at all the exercises that require a good amount of shoulder mobility in the fitness, Crossfit, and sports performance worlds.  Overhead press, thrusters, overhead squats, and snatches are some of the most obvious, put even exercises like pullups, handstands, wall balls, and hanging knee and toe ups can be problematic, especially when combined with speed and force such as during a kipping pull up.

Assessing for Lat and Teres Tightness with Overhead Shoulder MobilityWhen assessing for limitations in overhead shoulder elevation, there are several things you need to evaluate.  I’ve discussed many of these in several past blog posts and Inner Circle webinars on How to Assess Overhead Shoulder Mobility.

I am worried about what I am seeing on the internet right now.

I feel like the mobility trends I am seeing are focused on torquing the shoulder joint to try to improve overhead mobility.  Remember, the shoulder is a VERY mobile joint that tends to run into trouble from a lack of stability.  Trying to stretch out the joint or shoulder capsule should never be the first thing you attempt with self mobilization techniques.  In fact, I have found it causes way more problems than it solves.

Think about it for a second…

If your shoulder can’t fully elevate, jamming it into more elevation is only going to cause more issues. Find the cause. [Click to Tweet]

In my experience, the focus should be on the soft tissue around the joint, not the shoulder joint itself.  The muscles tend to be more of the mobility issue from my experience than the joint.  Just think about all the chronic adaptations that occur from out postures and habits throughout the date.

Two of the most muscles that I see causing limitations in overhead shoulder mobility at the latissimus dorsi and the teres major.

Here’s a quick and easy way to assess the lat and teres during arm elevation.

 

Assessing and Improving Overhead Shoulder Mobility

For those interested in learning more, I have a few Inner Circle webinars on how to assess and improve overhead shoulder mobility:

 

 

Enhancing Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Enhancing Overhead Shoulder MobilityOverhead shoulder mobility is one of the things that a large majority of people could all improve on if addressed appropriately.  This seems to be limited in a very large percentage of people, especially in those with shoulder pain and dysfunction.  Perhaps it has to do with our seated postures or our more sedentary lifestyles, but regardless limited overhead shoulder mobility is probably going to cause issues if not addressed.

 

Enhancing Overhead Shoulder Mobility

Here is a clip from my brand new educational program with Eric Cressey, Functional Stability Training for the Upper Body.  In the clip I am assessing someone with limited overhead shoulder mobility.  During the assessment it became clear that he had a few issues limiting his mobility, but I wanted to demonstrate how a few simple manual therapy techniques can clear up this pattern rather quickly if assessed and treated appropriately.

It really goes back down to a proper assessment and know what you are looking for when assessing people.  This is just a very small clip of some of the great information we cover in our new program, which is on sale for $20 off this week (sale ends Sunday May 18th at midnight EST).   Click here or the image below to order now before the sale ends!

Functional Stability Training for the Upper Body

Self Myofascial Release for the Teres Major

Self-myofascial release teres majorA couple of months ago I wrote an article about the importance of the teres major muscle and how I often find it an area of tightness in my clients.  I recommended focusing on that area during manual therapy and some of your self myofascial release techniques.

I’ve had a lot of readers ask for more information so I wanted to share a video of how I perform some of the self-myofascial techniques.  My preferred technique is to use a trigger point ball or lacrosse ball against a wall (read my recommendations for which self myofascial release tools to use).

I see the teres major limiting horizontal adduction, arm elevation, and disassociation of the shoulder and scapula.  Again, if you haven’t read my previous article on the teres major go back and read more about this.  For the self-myofascial release techniques, we’ll work on these three areas.

I always start by rolling out the area and pausing on any tight/sore spots.  Most people stop there, but I think it is important to incorporate some movement with the self-myofascial release techniques.  In this video, I show you how I work the teres major during both horizontal adduction and arm elevation.  It is pretty hard to stretch the teres major, but I usually recommend following the self myofascial release for the teres major up with the cross body genie stretch.  This could also work well for the latissimus and even posterior rotator cuff.

 

Self Myofascial Release for the Teres Major

 

Teres Major: An Important Muscle that is Often Overlooked in Throwers

There is no doubt that baseball pitchers and other overhead athletes get tight from throwing.  We originally showed this in my study published in AJSM, pitchers had an immediate loss of shoulder internal rotation after 45 pitches on the mound.

I often say that this loss of motion can easily become cumulative if not addressed, and unfortunately, the majority of baseball pitchers I see tend to need work on their soft tissue mobility.  I believe this is directly related to the cumulative trauma to the muscles that has been left unaddressed for some time.

I am a firm believer that regular soft tissue maintenance work is important for baseball pitchers, but I also understand that having access someone like me isn’t very realistic for many athletes.

We have come a long way with tools to work on your own soft tissue, like foam rolling, massage sticks, and trigger point balls.  For throwers, we have been recommending the use of these tools for some time and you often see people focused on a few key areas like the posterior rotator cuff, lats, and pecs.  This is for good reason!

But there is another spot that I bet you are missing that I think is pretty important and will help you feel better quickly.

 

Teres Major

The teres major just doesn’t get enough respect.  It’s not lucky enough to be included as one of the “rotator cuff” muscles.  It’s not a big guy that you can read how to strengthen in Men’s Health, like the pecs or lats.  Sometimes I think it is forgotten!

The teres major is a pretty important muscle to focus on.

The teres major acts as an internal rotator and adductor of the arm.  Guess what the arm does as you accelerate through your mechanics to generate velocity on the ball?  That is right, you internally rotate and adduct the arm!

But unlike the pec and the lat, who also contribute to the same motion, the teres major has a more intimate relationship with the scapula and humerus.  When you look at baseball pitchers, you tend to see a large, overdeveloped, hypertrophied teres major.  This again tells me it is an important muscle for throwing.  (photo from wikipedia)

teres major tightness

As the teres major gets tight and shortened from overuse and throwing.  you can start to see changes in scapulohumeral motion.  When assessing someone, you may see that the scapula looks like it wants to upwardly rotate more on the throwing side, which I often attribute to the teres major shortening not allowing proper separation of scapula and humeral arm movement.  Essentially the tight teres major drags the scapula up with the arm because the two can’t separate

It looks like the person is achieving good arm elevation but realistically they are just compensating with more scapular upward rotation.  If you look closely, you’ll even notice that they are elevating the arm less and upwardly rotating their scapula more.  This is probably going to cause some impingement and irritation to the shoulder.  Here is a great example:

teres major tightness

 

Self-Myofascial Release and Soft Tissue Work for the Teres Major

So as much as I want to help you and work with you, I also want you to be able to manage this yourself a little bit.  Remember, we said earlier that you will lose motion after throwing, it’s all about managing this as best as you can.

A simple way to work on the teres major is to perform self-myofascial release to the muscle with a trigger point or lacrosse ball.  We often recommend you roll the back of the shoulder or posterior rotator cuff, but in my experience, we do not emphasize the teres major enough.  To do this you simply need to understand the anatomy of the muscle and adjust the placement of the ball.

I should note that I do not think foam rolling your lats will get your teres major very well.  The muscle is too short and situated up towards your armpit that it just doesn’t work well.  You need to get in there more focal with a smaller trigger point ball.

You can also read my article and video demonstration on self myofascial release for the teres major.

Self-myofascial release teres major

 

What Trigger Point Ball to Buy?

I typically use a couple of different trigger point balls, depending on how firm I want the ball to be.  I would recommend the softer balls for beginners and firmer for advanced users.  Here is what I recommend:

  • For Beginners: Trigger Point Therapy Massage Ball.  These are a little more expensive than lacrosse balls at about $15, but they are softer and have a little nub than you can wedge into different areas, which I like.  This is a good starting point, but the newer Trigger Point Therapy X-Factor Ball is a little larger and more firm.  I use these a lot.
  • For Advanced Users: SKLZ Reaction Ball.  You know those little yellow reaction balls that you drop and bounce all over the place?  A friend just recently turned me on to these as trigger point tools!  They work great!  They are firm and have great little nubs to really get in to the tissue.  Plus you can usually find them for under $10.
  • You can always just go with a simple lacrosse ball as well.  I think lacrosse balls are great, but they are pretty firm and don’t have a small nub to use, making them less than ideal for some areas.  That being said they are under $2!

 

Try working on the teres major or recommending this to your athletes, I bet you see improvement pretty quickly.  Working on the teres major soft tissue with some self-myofascial release techniques is an important, yet often overlooked, area to emphasize in baseball pitchers and other overhead athletes.

 

 

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