5 Shoulder Exercises For An Unstable Shoulder Blade

By Dr Ken Nakamura+

Unstable Shoulder Blade Exercises | Dr Ken Nakamura Downtown Toronto Chiropractor

Do you have an unstable shoulder blade?

A Four-week motor control training programme to reduce pain and improve function often helps.

Strong shoulder blades are the foundation for shoulder stability. If your shoulders blades are feeling loose and unstable your lower trapezius, middle trapezius and serratus anterior muscles need to be stronger, stable and fire at the correct timing.

Fix your unstable shoulder blade by:

  1. Strengthening the lower trapezius, middle trapezius and serratus anterior muscles
  2. Stretching out the shoulder blade muscles including the pectoralis minor and levator scapula and upper trapezius muscle.

Although all these muscles sounds complex you’ll see that the exercises aren’t hard to do.

1st Stage: Muscle Control and Strength

Sharapova

Named after Maria Sharapova the previous #1 tennis player who apparently had a shoulder problem that was cured with this exercise.

This exercise strengthens the serratus anterior, middle trapezius and lower trapezius muscles in addition to two very important muscles. The infraspinatus and teres minor are needed to stabilize the shoulder and balance out the big chest muscles.

  • Plank position against the wall with your arms shoulder-width apart. Put a band / Theraband around your wrists.
  • Make sure your lower back and mid back are straight and not arched.
  • Actively try to push your elbow into the wall. This will make your shoulder blade move forward.
  • Move the arms up into the shape of a small “C” and move your arms up a little at a time until your elbows are almost straight.
  • The whole time you are actively trying to push your elbow into the wall while moving in the shape of a “C”.
  • Come back to your starting position while doing reverse “C”s.
  • Do 3 sets 5-8 repetitions.

Overhead Carry

By doing an overhead carry you activate serratus anterior and lower trapezius and the upper trapezius. You want to minimize the activation of the upper trapezius muscles by bringing the bottom of your shoulder blade forward.

Warning: Many people don’t have enough mobility in the mid back in order to do this exercise. If you cannot raise your hands directly above your head you cannot do this exercise. Start with a lightweight. Ask your chiropractor or physiotherapist if this exercise is suitable for you.

  • Activate your core by bringing your belly button to your spine and tightening your lower back muscles.
  • Start with a kettlebell or dumbells on the ground and bring it up to chest level.
  • Bring the weight up above your head with your elbow straight.
  • Bring the bottom of your shoulder blade forward to minimize the activation of your upper trapezius.
  • If you are stable enough walk forwards for up to 10 yards or approximately 10 metres.
  • Repeat 3 times in each hand.

“Y” Wall Slides

This great scapular exercise helps improve scapular function by working on the serratus anterior and middle trapezius and lower trapezius muscles.

  • Plank position against the wall with your arms shoulder-width apart.
  • Make sure your lower back and mid back are straight and not arched.
  • Actively try to push your elbow into the wall. This will make your shoulder blade move forward.
  • Move the arms up into the shape of a “Y” till your elbows are almost straight. The whole time you are actively trying to push your elbow into the wall.
  • Come back to your starting position.
  • Do 3 sets 5-8 repetitions

Banded Wall Slides

This exercise helps the serratus anterior and some of the stabilizing muscles of the shoulder.

  • Plank position against the wall with a Theraband or any elastic band around both wrists with your arms shoulder-width apart.
  • Make sure your lower back and mid back are straight and not arched
  • Keep the arms the same width apart.
  • Actively try to push your elbow into the wall. This will make your shoulder blade move forward.
  • Move the hand up on one side a little bit then the other side.
  • You should feel tiredness in the shoulder blade and not your upper trapezius.
  • Do 3 sets of 5-8 repetitions.

Reverse V Raises

  • Bring your belly button towards your spine without extending your lower back.
  • Start in a prone position with the top of a long foam roll just below your sternum.
  • Head on a towel so your head doesn’t go into the floor.
  • Bring the head up to neutral (horizontal). Don’t extend your lower back.
  • Hands palm down on the floor.
  • Bring the shoulder blades down and back towards the wall closest to your feet.
  • Bring your hand up with the thumbs up.
  • Bring up your head for 2 seconds, bring your shoulder blades down for 2 seconds and hold the arms up for 4 seconds.

Advanced Reverse V Raises

The same as above however you simply go on your toes and straighten out your knees. This will automatically tighten your quads, gluts and calves.

The exercises done on the wall are called closed-chain exercises as they are attached to a solid object. A squat is also a closed-chain exercise while a bicep curl is an open-chain exercise.

The closed-chain exercises using the wall above will help increase the stability of your shoulder during motion or in other words help the dynamic stability of your shoulder.

2nd Stage: Stretching And Conscious Muscle Control

CP Pec Minor Stretch For An Unstable Shoulder Blade

Coracoid Process attaches to the pectoralis minor. A tight pec minor contributes to a unstable shoulder. | Dr Ken Nakamura Downtown Toronto Chiropractor
Coracoid Process attaches to the pectoralis minor. A tight pec minor contributes to an unstable shoulder.

This exercise is trying to stretch the pectoralis (pec) minor where it attaches to the bone. You can also stretch the rest of the muscle by working the whole area to the left and right of the bone for about 5-7 cm or 2-3 inches.

  • While sitting or standing, put your thumb or two fingers on your coracoid process.
  • See picture above. You can find your coracoid process by feeling for a bone just beneath the collar bone. It’s about 2/3 of way lateral from the start of the sternum/breast bone.
  • Put your thumb or two fingers on the pec minor muscle that is overlying the coracoid bone and put a downward pressure towards the floor.
  • While keeping the pressure up move your shoulder up and backwards towards the wall behind you.

Upper Trapezius Stretch

These muscles are often too tight and impair the proper movement of your shoulder blade and shoulder. They are easy exercises to do whether you are sitting or standing.

  • Bring your right hand behind your back low as if you are going to put your hand in the opposite pocket. Don’t put your hand at the lower back curve, that is too high.
  • Bend your neck sideways towards the left.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3X

Levator Scapula Stretch

  • Bring your right hand behind your back low as if you are going to put your hand in the opposite pocket. Don’t put your hand at the lower back curve, that is too high.
  • Rotate your head 45 degrees to the left.
  • Bend your neck forward so your chin goes toward your chest. You should be looking at your left thigh.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3X

90 / 90 / 100 Posture Correction For An Unstable Shoulder Blade

Picture

Yes, the posture of your shoulder blade is important, meaning your shoulder blade position while you are sitting or standing is important.

Correctly position your shoulder while keeping a bad overall posture won’t do anything for you.

  • Keep your elbow bent at 90 degrees on your armrests.
  • Keep your knees at a 90-degree angle or less.
  • Keep an arched lower back by using a lower back support as most office chairs don’t have enough support.
  • Lean back in a chair. Stay at 100 degrees, not 90 degrees using the lower back support and the back of the chair.
  • The slight lean back at 100 degrees will bring your head back a little bit. Now bring your head back a tad more toward the wall behind you.
  • All these posture corrections will put your shoulder blade in the correct position.

Picture Reference

  1. cristian-baron-27345-unsplash

References

  1. Cools AM, Dewitte V, Lanszweert F, et al. Rehabilitation of Scapular Muscle Balance: Which Exercises to Prescribe? Am J Sports Med. 2007;35(10):1744–1751.

  1. People with serratus anterior have problems with anterior tipping and downward rotation of the shoulder blade
  2. Stretching the shoulder muscles like the infraspinatus and subscapularis and lattismus dorsi may also help.

Author

Dr Ken Nakamura


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