Can you improve range of motion at the gleno-humeral joint without working on range of motion at the gleno-humeral joint? As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the answer is: YES.
Having good range of motion at the gleno-humeral joint is very important for shoulder health. For baseball pitchers it’s even more important. Having an appropriate amount of external rotation, internal rotation and comparable total motion between both sides is an important predictor of injury in many cases. I mentioned recently in a blog post that sometimes simply doing static stretching might make you try to chase improvements in range of motion without ever getting where you want.
The shoulder joint is a good example of how you can improve range of motion at one joint by addressing other areas that are not direct work to the specific muscles. Think about how the shoulder joint is built and what bony structures are part of the shoulders.
Now think about how the position of the scapula, for example, can affect movements occurring at the gleno-humeral joint and its resting posture. If you have an anteriorly tilted scapula, your whole gleno-humeral joint will be affected and your range of motion might be different than what it should be with a neutral scapular position. Same thing with someone who has a significant kyphosis and doesn’t have a lot of range of motion at the thoracic spine; it’s going to affect the way the whole shoulder will be positioned. Range of motion will also be affected.
Working to improve thoracic spine range of motion and scapular stability without doing any specific stretching for the gleno-humeral joint will improve your range of motion. They both will help reposition the humeral head in the glenoid fossa to allow for optimal range of motion. And by doing this you also avoid trying to crank on the end range of motion of the gleno-humeral joint, which might not always be a good idea if there’s some sort of bony limitation. I have recently seen 20-25 degrees of improvement in total motion (external + internal rotation ROM) in 4 weeks on one of my pitcher’s throwing arm only by hammering on the thoracic spine mobility drills and the scapular stability and strength exercises! That just goes to show you how important it is to take a look at the bigger picture.
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