Anatomy of the Shoulder | Healthy Posture and Exercises

Anatomy of the Shoulder | Healthy Posture and Exercises

When you gain a basic understanding of how the parts of the shoulder fit and work together, it's easy to understand just how quickly bad posture can cause shoulder pain. Today we're diving into the anatomy of the shoulder, how bad posture causes shoulder problems, and what you can do to improve your posture and strengthen your shoulders.

A Quick Look at Shoulder Anatomy

Let's look at basic shoulder physiology. You can think of the shoulder as a system made up of three bones and four main muscles and their tendons. The bones are the clavicle (collar bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and humerus (upper arm bone). The muscles and tendons in the shoulder are collectively known as the rotator cuff, and their main job is to keep the upper arm bone in the socket of the shoulder complex. 

Each shoulder has two joints, which makes it one of your body's most flexible parts. The main joint in the shoulder is also known as the glenohumeral joint and consists of the humerus and the scapula. This joint in particular allows for most of the shoulder's large range of motion. The smaller of the two joints, the acromioclavicular joint, is where the clavicle meets the scapula, and it helps the main joint move through its complete range.

How Posture Affects Shoulder Health

There are a lot of potential reasons for shoulder pain. Some examples of what may cause shoulder pain are injury, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. But one incredibly common culprit is bad posture. Not only can bad posture cause shoulder pain, but it can also result in a loss of range of motion. Bad posture impacts the efficiency with which the muscles within the shoulder function, and in severe cases, it can even change the physical bone structure of the shoulder over time.

Thinking about and maintaining good posture is not something people often consider. Sure, we all realize we're hunching, slouching, or rounding our shoulders from time to time, but fixing it seems like a big commitment and a lot of effort, so we are quick to brush the thought off and are then very surprised when shoulder or back pain comes from seemingly out of the blue. 

Poor Posture and Shoulder Impingement

Shoulder impingement, aka swimmer's shoulder or impingement syndrome, is a painful condition caused by overuse of the shoulder (think athletes such as swimmers or baseball players), changes to the bones caused by arthritis, injuries, or, you guessed it, bad posture.

There is a narrow space called the subacromial space that runs at the top of your shoulder bone. In that space, there is a tendon called the supraspinatus which runs through it. When you slouch, round your shoulders, or hunch over, the subacromial space becomes more narrow, and the supraspinatus tendon can become pinched. It can also rub against the subacromial bursa (the natural padding of your shoulder), causing swelling and inflammation. 

Ways to Improve Posture at Work

Maintaining good posture is a 24/7 effort. It's something we need to be conscious of while we walk and stand, but particularly when we sit at our desks for up to eight hours a day. Office ergonomics is everything. There is a right way to sit in front of your computer all day that will help to ensure you don't end up with back, neck, and shoulder pain caused by poor posture. 

Let's specify: poor posture at your desk does not just come down to whether or not you are sitting up with a straight back. Everything from the height of your chair, or the height of your monitor, to the angle of your wrist when using the mouse, counts toward ensuring good posture.

Here are a few basic office ergonimics tips to follow to achieve good posture while sitting in front of a computer:

  • The top of the computer monitor should be at eye level.
  • Keep your shoulders low and relaxed. Not rounded or hunched over.
  • Make sure that your lower arms are parallel to the floor.
  • Keep your mouse and keyboard close enough that your elbows are at about a 90° angle.
  • Keep your feet flat on the ground.
  • Make sure your upper back is straight and that your chair supports your lower back.
  • Keep your upper legs at a 90° angle in relation to your body.
  • Your monitor should be an arm's length from you.

Easy Exercises to Help Strengthen Your Shoulders for Better Posture

Continuously correcting bad posture is one way to approach the posture problem. Another more proactive approach, however, is doing exercises to strengthen your shoulders. By strengthening certain shoulder muscles, you won't have to work as hard to keep up a good posture. Here are a few tried and tested shoulder exercises you can do to help you improve your shoulder posture:

Shoulder Squeezes

  • Lift your arms to shoulder height, bend your elbows at a 90° angle and face your palms forward.
  • Squeeze your shoulder blades together by moving your arms backward.
  • Hold that position for 10 seconds. When the 10 seconds are done, return back to your starting position.
  • Repeat five times.

Chest Doorway Stretch

  • Stand one to two feet in front of a doorway.
  • Put your forearms on the sides of the doorway.
  • Take a step forwards with one foot and lean into the stretch.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat three times.

Prone I, T, Y

  • Lie on your stomach with your forehead on the ground and your arms straight above your head. Place your thumbs in the thumbs-up position.
  • Lift your arms as high as you possibly can, hold, and then bring them down again slowly. 
  • Repeat this exercise with your arms in a "T" and in a "Y" position. 2 sets of around 10 reps should do the trick.

Nina Kulenkampff is a freelance copywriter and editor based in South Africa. She is passionate about the written word and loves diving deep into research on any given topic. When not at her desk you will find her deeply absorbed in a book or out on a hike in the great outdoors.

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