Since mid May, I have had an ongoing right shoulder issue that wasn’t painful so much as it was annoying. I have been trying to foam roll the lats and using a lacrosse ball for the pecs, across the back of the shoulder, traps, and along the outer ridge of the scapula, just under the shoulder/armpit area.
While this has been giving me some relief, my shoulder was never quite 100%. As a result any overhead pressing movement made me nervous, so I had been cutting that motion out of my strength training program altogether until my shoulder felt better.
I have had a massage and was told that my shoulder was forward somewhat so she dug into my shoulder and that gave me some relief but the discomfort was still there. It was greatly reduced but still there. I wasn’t expecting my shoulder to be fixed completely so I would take any improvement that came my way.
I continued to roll my lats, traps and pecs and it was helping, but I wasn’t getting the complete fix I was hoping for. This issue with my shoulder was going to need some more soft tissue work.
It wasn’t till talking to our resident certified athletic trainer and all around good guy, Jason Allen, that he offered to dighis thumb into my lats and subscapularis. Awesome! Let the fun begin!
The lats were up first. The lats are a big muscle group that originate as low as the pelvis and low back area and extend all the way up into the shoulder and insert onto the upper arm (humerus). They perform a host of different functions that include shoulder adduction, shoulder internal rotation, and shoulder extension.
He first dug his thumb into my lat, right at the base of my shoulder by the armpit. Holy crap it was very uncomfortable! I started to sweat almost immediately. It wasn’t painful, but extremely tender. Luckily for me the tenderness dropped down fairly quickly. I was happy about that. This usually is a good sign that my muscle will release quicker and provide my shoulder the necessary relief. With his thumb firmly planted into my lat, he moved my arm through a wide range of motion to increase the mobility in the shoulder joint. As he did this, the tenderness quickly came back, but dropped very quickly.
Next up was the subscap. The subscap is one the rotator cuff muscles that internally rotates the humerus and provides anterior and posterior stability. It originates on the anterior portion of the scapula and inserts on the lesser tubercle of the humerus (upper arm). As Jason dug his thumb into the frontside of my scapula, I experienced another wave of tenderness all over again. As he did with the lats, he moved arm in and out of extension and my subscap gradually let go.
Once Jason was done, I did a mobility drill for my lats and a shoulder and lat stretch. My lat and shoulder feel amazing. (to view our T-Spine mobility video, click here)
Here is the take home message. If you are experiencing any pain or discomfort in a joint, check your soft tissue quality. More than likely you have some knots and adhesions built up that have been restricting your optimal range of motion which in turn will create discomfort at some point.
If you are able to catch the tightness early enough, self myofasical release (whether using a foam roller, lacrosse ball, or whatever) will usually do the trick. However, sometimes you need to see a massage therapist to get into the muscle and really “pound out” the knots.
Is it painful? Yes.
However, the resulting function you restore in the joint is worth it. I can now get back to doing overhead pressing movements and my shoulder feels normal.
Dave Radin, CSCS