The Spine-Shoulder Pain Connection

In all movement, when the upper spine and neck lack flexibility, the shoulders are the joint that are then required to take over and make adjustments.  Sounds simple enough. But what if the spine is also rounded forward as well as inflexible?  The humerus or upper arm bone then has no choice but to move to a forward position, as it is attached to the spine via the collar bone and the scapula.   Not designed to move from a forward position, the humerus, then starts to pull on it’s supporting tendons and ligaments creating friction where it should not be and what we feel as shoulder pain. Do this consistently  (or abruptly in the case of a dislocation) and you may develop tendinitis, bursitis, even bony joint degeneration.

During my rehabilitation, it became vital for me to make sure that my spine was upright and that my shoulder would fall into it’s normal design position allowing it to be supported as best it could. However, I, like most of us, do many things that cause rounding and stiffness of the upper back – work long hours on a computer, commute, sit slumped while watching TV  being just a few examples. With my dislocation, I no longer had the luxury of tolerating a spine that was not fully upright and vibrant and so I had to get more serious and increase my spinal flexibility.

I started with the often dreaded but wonderfully effective foam roller. In essence as your spine rolls over the roller, it allows each vertebral joint to start to separate from it’s neighbor above and below, creating more flexibility in the joints.  Below you will find a link to some exercise videos that will guide you how to use a foam roller for the upper back. 

Next I grabbed the small RAD roller balls for the spine (see RAD photos below) so I could work to separate out each vertebrae more specifically and start to relax the muscles that run along side the spinal vertebrae.  I then added in myAlign Posture Egoscue exercises to add rotation and strengthen my spine. In checking out my posture because I was developing some unexplained foot pain, I noticed that I was starting to lean away from the injured shoulder so the uninjured side of my body would take over more. I then increased my Align Posture Egoscue exercises to balance my weight so I was better centered over my hips and feet. 2 months later, I now feel that I have an even more flexible spine than before the injury, my foot pain is gone and am healing well.

While you may not have dislocated your shoulder, if you have shoulder pain, the source of the pain may not even be due to an injury in the shoulder joint but due to poor position of your shoulder because of lack of surrounding support by an inflexible upper back or even hips that are out of alignment. You can however make improvements to your spine using the foam roller and address general posture concerns using Egoscue exercises.  

Check out these links for upper back flexibility/ shoulder pain. Remember to start slowly and build up over time. More is not better.  As always, if you have an injury, you may want to check with a medical professional before starting with any exercise program. 

Jenean LaRoche is a Posture Alignment Specialist certified by EgoscueInstitute® and holds a  BA degree in Dance Education as well as Master Certification in Intuition Medicine®. Her past licensure includes nursing and massage therapy. Jenean offers posture therapy sessions at SenSpa and works with clients of all ages and physical abilities from athletes to self professed couch potatoes.  She is also the director of the SenSpa Wellness Center.