In my previous post on Shoulder Impingement I discussed anatomy and causes of shoulder impingement. In this post we will discuss treatment and prevention.
We can treat the symptoms all we want but they will come back if we do not address the real cause of the problem. The shoulder really isn’t the problem. The shoulder pain/impingement is always a symptom of a larger issue. A more global look at the climber, their posture, muscle imbalances, and movement dysfunction are all important for better long-term outcomes.
By now you’ve heard of Climber Posture. Do you know any climbers that stand like this? Maybe you stand like this? Most of my climbers with shoulder impingement stand like this.
I know, I know. Talking about posture isn’t sexy but just incase you think it doesn’t matter that much consider the following:
According to a 2014 study in the European Spine Journal a slouched posture reduced shoulder flexion and abduction.
Another study in 2005 in the Manual Therapy Journal found that a slouched posture reduced shoulder flexion by 18 degrees.
According to a 1999 study in the Archives of Physical Medicine a slouched posture reduced shoulder strength in abduction by 16.2%
This means that your posture could mean the difference between sending and not sending. It could even mean the difference between being able to a climb a V7 vs. V9/10 or V10 vs. V12/13.
That’s huge! Want to improve your climbing by 2 grades or more? Fix your posture!
With that said, the first thing I address in my climbers is posture and alignment. The alignment of the scapula will determine how much subacromial space we have. We also must realize that scapula position depends on rib position, rib position depends on spine position, spine position depends on pelvic position. It’s all connected.
The first thing we need to do for someone with this posture is assess thoracic spine mobility. The “back to wall shoulder flexion test” or the “wall angle test” can give us clues about how stiff someone’s thoracic spine is.
The thoracic spine is normally pretty stiff in climbers because we use so much of the muscle in that area of our back. 13-15 degrees of thoracic extension is needed for full overhead elevation of the arms.
When I see climbers with impingement I always manipulate (adjust) the thoracic spine and ribs. Thoracic spine manipulation decreases sympoms of shoulder impingement by realigning the spine and rib position.
According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Manipulative Therapy thoracic manipulation resulted in 51% reduction in pain and 30 degree increase in shoulder elevation.
Bench T-spine Mobilization is a mobility drill I like to teach my climbers so that they can keep the thoracic mobility we gained from the thoracic manipulation.
Rock Back Quadruped Extension Rotation is another mobility drill I like that works on thoracic mobility.
Another more aggressive way to mobilize the thoracic spine is using a double lacrosse ball as shown here:
2. Tissue Quality
The next thing I look at is tissue quality. Tight muscles can pull the scapula out of alignment and can prevent other muscles like the lower trap and posterior rotator cuff from doing their job.
Tightness in the upper traps, levator scapulae and pec minor can affect scapula position.
Tightness in lats and teres major and pec major will affect the alignment of the humerus causing it to internally rotate.
Tissue and mobility work need to be done everyday.
“When it comes to mobility there are no off days.” -Dr. Kelly Starret, Becoming a Supple Leopard
To make change in the affected tissues consistent work must be done. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Fifteen minutes a day is enough.
3. Rehab Exercises
The point of rehab exercise is to reinforce correct movement patterns and climbing technique and address muscle imbalances. These exercises improve neuromuscular signaling and increase blood flow to the injured area which helps the muscles recovery after injury and reminds your brain to fire those muscles during climbing.
With that said these exercises are not the end of your strength training. Once we balance your cuff and lower traps we have to start doing strengthening exercises that incorporate these muscles into larger movement patterns. A post on this coming in the near future.
Here are some exercises I recommend:
A) We all love push ups for training opposition climbing muscles but it’s important to also do other pressing movements that more closely mimic climbing. Push ups are a good choice but landmine presses are better. They train the rotator cuff and they are in the same plane (overhead) that we typically do all of our pulling in climbing. Also, the half kneeling position gets the core involved.
B) Rotator cuff Exercises
“Doing rotator cuff exercises is like cleaning your gutters; it’s not sexy or fun, but you need to do it or else bad things will happen. ” -Eric Cressey
You heard that, right? Bad things will happen, like having to cancel your bishop trip cause your shoulder is hurting. No one wants that. Especially six of your friends who you were planning to split gas and a hotel with.
“JUST DO IT!” -Nike
Half-kneeling Cable External Rotation (more advanced, only do this one if it is non-painful and non-pinchy)
Everyone knows it’s important to do rows for scapular stability in your training program. However, many people don’t realize that you only get the benefits of all these rowing exercises if you actually perform them with correct technique!
Check out this detailed video on all the common mistakes we see with my favorite variation, the standing 1-arm cable row:
4. Overuse syndrome
Rest and recovery are probably the least planned and underutilized ways to enhance performance.
In 16 years of climbing and dealing with my own injuries, 3+ years of working with athletes’ broken bodies and 2 years of barbell training I have learned one thing:
YOU DO NOT GET STRONGER FROM YOUR TRAINING, YOU GET STRONGER FROM RECOVERING FROM YOUR TRAINING.
This is a hard fact for many athletes to face. We all want to push our bodies to the limit and we think that more is better. This really isn’t the case. I currently spend 5 days a week fixing athletes who train this way and spend a lot of time begging them to take some rest days.
If you don’t rest and recover your body won’t adapt to the stress of your training—you won’t get stronger. Neglect it for too long, and you will start to lose strength. You’ll sink into the black hole known as overtraining. First, your sleep patterns and energy levels will feel the effects. Eventually, your immune system crashes, and you lose your appetite. It’s like burning out your engine. Then you become at high risk for injury if you don’t have one already by that point.
I wrote an entire post about this topic so to read more about it go HERE.
As I mentioned previously, there are many reasons why someone might have shoulder pain and that’s why it is important to seek professional help to get an accurate diagnosis.
If you have any questions feel free to comment below.
If you think you have shoulder impingement syndrome come see me now at Motus Clinic and we can get you diagnosed properly, start the rehab process and get you back to climbing fast!