Pull with less pain – Get those shoulder blades back!

Posted on November 2, 2016

Another movement we do a lot during our day is pulling. Opening doors, pulling clothes out of the laundry, and even lifting an item up from the ground all have elements of pulling.  The problem we see with pulling is that individuals don’t use their shoulder blades well enough and over pull with their low back, shoulders, and neck muscles leading to over strain and injury.

Why we see this a lot:

  1. It’s easy to do.  It’s really easy to just pull back with your shoulders without having your shoulder blades do the work
  2. Too much time in sitting and slumped postures.  We spend so much time with our shoulder blades forward on our body sitting and working at computers or driving, that our shoulder blade muscles can get over lengthened and then have a hard time shortening when they need to contract back to pull something.

Why it’s a problem:

  1. Just pulling with your shoulder can put your shoulder joint in a forward position which can increase stress/strain on the labrum, biceps tendon, and rotator cuff among other things
  2. Without setting your shoulder blade, it tends to be unsteady.  Since your rotator cuff attaches from your shoulder blade to your shoulder, if it doesn’t have a solid base to work off, it’s hard for it to stabilize the shoulder joint very well.  Imagine if you were trying to play tug of war.  Would you rather be on firm ground or a wobbly board.  Probably firm ground and your rotator cuff prefers that too! If you’re shoulder blade is setting back, it’s creating firm ground for your cuff to pull off of!

How to recognize it:

  1. First, check if you can even squeeze your shoulder blades back and together as far as you need to. We like to do the pen test.  Have someone place a pen in the center of you back between your shoulder blades.  Now, try and squeeze the pen with your shoulder blades and have them let go of the pen.  You should be able to hold the pen there with your shoulder blades for at least 1 minute.  If you can’t, you can probably improve your ability to pull with your shoulder blades.
  2. Explore your shoulder blade movement with the exercises below.  If you can’t do it without your shoulders hiking up into your ears or over arching your low back, you should probably work on it!

What to do about it:

First, start out with learning to squeeze your shoulder blades together with our scap squeezes:

Next, improve exactly where to put your shoulder blades with our scapular clocks:

Once you learn to control your shoulder blades better, start working on pulling with them better; the easiest exercise to work is the row:

Once you get the hang of that, you can continue to work on your strength with the rest of the exercises on our shoulder strengthening playlist:

The more you practice all this, the more natural it will become with your daily movements.  Try to integrate pulling your shoulder blades back better when you’re pulling things in everyday life like opening doors, laundry out of the machine, dishes out of the washer or cabinets, and even with things like pulling while sweeping or raking. As you get better your neck, shoulders, and back will thank you!  

Get those blades back!

Dr. Dane Happeny, PT, DPT

Doctor of Physical Therapy

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