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One Quick Test of Shoulder Health

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Maintaining a quadruped position (hands and knees) reveals a great deal about your upper body strength and preferred movement strategies. For these reasons, we use this position as a test and exercise within our sports physical therapy setting.

Even strong and muscular patients commonly assume a quadruped position with their shoulder blades pinched close together and deep lower back arch (belly button dropped towards the ground).

This position is often utilized because it conserves energy and allows the body to be lazy. Compression from the lower and upper back is used to hold the torso up against gravity, instead of the abs and muscles involved with reaching. These strategies are common among folks experiencing back pain, shoulder pain and a variety of other issues.

The abs and muscles involved with reaching (for example, the serratus anterior) are essential components of athletic performance, running, walking and pretty much being a human being.

As these skills diminish, the risk of experiencing various injuries may increase.

The bear test is a great way to see if test your upper body strength and movement capabilities.

Think you have what it takes to pass the test? Give it a shot with this drill!

Photo Credit

Polar bear” by tharendra is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

How to “Fix” Rounded Shoulders

As physical therapists, we often answer questions pertaining to “poor posture.” One of the most common reports from our patients in Bethesda and Chevy Chase is having “forward shoulders.”

The solution to this, which is often taught by other physical therapists, is to stretch the muscles in the front of the shoulders. The most common of these muscle groups is the pecs.

The logic goes something like this. “Your pecs are tight and pulling your shoulders forward. If you stretch them, your shoulders can move back and correct your posture.”

While this reasoning isn’t necessarily wrong, it is shortsighted. It fails to question why muscles like the pecs became tight in the first place. Simply stretching these muscles won’t correct the root cause of the issue.

The shoulder complex rests on top of the rib cage and the pecs attach to the sternum (ribs 1-7 attach to the sternum) as well as the ribs on the front of the rib cage.

As we breath in the rib cage should expand in 360 degrees and as we breath out it should do the opposite.

People with forward shoulders and stiff pecs often have difficulty expanding the front part of their rib cage during a relaxed breath in. This prevents the pecs from lengthening fully and often causes them to remain stiff, pulling the shoulders forward.

If you are looking to improve your posture and “pull your shoulders back”, the solution must include breathing exercises that emphasis relaxation and expansion of the chest/front part of the rib cage.

Here is an example from our YouTube page that illustrates this concept.

If you are looking to improve your posture or shoulder function, contact us now!

Photo Credit

“Orlando’s Poor Posture” by hewy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Arm Care in Baseball is More Than Pitch Counts

The number of shoulder and elbow injuries in youth baseball pitchers is on the rise and we consistently see these injuries for performance physical therapy. In response, consistent efforts have been made to better monitor the amount of stress taken by pitchers after each visit to the mound.

For many years, this was done by simply limiting the number of innings an athlete could pitch and setting a specific number of rest days between outings. More recently, pitch counts have become the standard for tracking a pitcher’s workload. However, while this change is an improvement, pitch counts do not tell the entire story.

What pitch count fails to account for is the varying intensities between throws. For example, a throw at 100% effort has a very different intensity than a throw at 50%. This is why efforts have been made in recent years to more accurately track the intensity, or workload, of a pitcher while on the mound.

A Better Method to Track Stress: Workload

According to athletic physical therapy, a more reliable measure of stress is the acute to chronic workload ratio (ACWR). Acute workload refers to the average workload of a single day over the past 9 days, whereas chronic workload refers to the average one-day workload over the past 28 days.

Research by sports scientist Tim Gabbett has shown that spikes in acute workloads, such as quickly increasing pitch count to more than the body is used to, can increase the risk of injury.

Calculating Your ACWR

There are two main ways to calculate the acute to chronic workload ratio.

The first is to use a series of formulas using pitch count and a subjective rating of perceived exertion (RPE), ranging on a scale of 1–10.

  1. Calculate acute workload by multiplying the number of high-intensity throws (around 70% of full effort or more) by the athlete’s RPE.
  2. Calculate chronic workload by calculating the weekly acute workload average of the past four weeks.

Once you have the acute and chronic workload, divide the acute workload by the chronic workload to get the ACWR.

The second and perhaps much simpler method is to use wearable technology. For example, in recent years, technology has become available to track the stress on a pitcher more accurately after an outing.

Sensors such as the MotusTHROW can accurately measure the amount of force placed on an athlete’s elbow during each throw. This data can be applied to calculate the ACWR to safely and effectively determine when a pitcher needs rest or is ready for their next high-intensity outing.

If you’d like to learn more about keeping your son or daughter safe on the mound, our experienced athletic physical therapy and injury rehabilitation team in Bethesda can help!