Curious about the shoulder and how teachers think about the shoulder in Pilates? Tune in to hear about the structure of the shoulder, how it moves, some shoulder myths and more!
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I was really inspired to wrestle with the Pilates teacher assumptions shared by the podcast Pilates Elephants episode 29. Scapular Stability. That episode dives even deeper into the complexity of the shoulder and place in Pilates. Check it out here.
Check out @ze_moves on Instagram. They're really awesome.
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[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. I'm Olivia, and I'll be your host. Join the conversation and share your thoughts on Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual. You can support the podcast by visiting buymeacoffee.com/OliviaPodcasts. Let's learn something new,
Hello, hello, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today we're going to be talking about the shoulder, which is super fun, super complicated, but super awesome as well. [00:01:00] One of the members on Buy Me a Coffee, Christine, had asked me to talk a little bit more about the shoulder, how Pilates plays into it, and some of the anatomy and biomechanics and how the shoulder works.
So that's what we're going to be diving into today. A hundred percent keeping in mind that you can do amazing Pilates adventuring with zero knowledge of your shoulder. But here's just a little bit of information about it that you can use or not use in ways that make you happy.
The anatomy of the shoulder, we've got three bones in our shoulder girdle. Naturally we double them because we have two shoulders, but the bones that we're talking about are the clavicle, which is your collarbone. Your scapula, which is your shoulder blade, and your humerus, which is the upper arm bone, right. They all meet at your shoulder.
There's four joints. I mean, debatable, but four [00:02:00] joints in that area, for sure. The one that we'll probably be talking about the most is called the glenohumeral joint, which is where your upper arm bone connects to your scapula. That's the ball and socket joint that allows your arm to move lots of different ways.
There's another joint that we think about there as well, the acromioclavicular joint. And you might be like, I haven't heard acromion before. Um, but the acromion is the top ridge of your scapula. So you've got this little like spine dealio that's at the top of your shoulder blade. If you were to look at a picture of your shoulder blade and it connects to your clavicle and that's like, the connection shoulder blade to like back body, to front body.
We also have a connection between your clavicle or collarbone to your sternum or breast bone, which is where your ribs meet in the front of your chest. That kind of vertical a sternum dude where your [00:03:00] collarbone connects to your sternum is a, another joint.
And the last one is your scapulothoracic joint, which is how your shoulder blade connects to your back. And that's all muscles, that's, you know, namely your trapezius and serratus, but that's like your shoulder blade gliding around on your rib cage.
So all of that stuff is going on in the shoulder, right? What that allows our shoulder to do, specifically your scapulothoracic joint, allowing your shoulder blade to move, and then your glenohumeral joint, which is a ball and socket joint, just like our hip.
But unlike our hip, which is low key locked into place, right? The bones of our pelvis don't move. They're fused together. But because we can move our scapula, in addition to, our arm, we've got this super mobile joint that can move in lots of directions.
But we know that the trade off between having more [00:04:00] mobility is having less stability. Right. So it is. There's a lot going on. Right. There's a lot of ways that it can move and because it can move in so many ways, this is a joint that does get injured because it can move so much. Right.
Another thing we talk about when we talk about the shoulder is the rotator cuff. And I feel like rotator cuff is a word that's like thrown around a lot, but people have like a general idea of what it is, but may not know what it actually entails.
So your rotator cuff are four muscles that kind of circle the head of your upper arm bone, where it connects into what we would call like your shoulder socket, which is that glenohumeral joint, that ball and socket joint, and what those four muscles allow for is your arm to move and rotate your upper arm to do all of its little rotation things.
If there's like a trivia question, and you're asked to name a muscle in your rotator cuff. [00:05:00] They are your subscapularis. You can infer a lot about the muscle by its name. So subscapularis is probably going to be under your scapula, which is in fact where it is. We've got the infraspinatus, teres minor and supraspinatus. We could have named them different things, but that's what we chose to name them.
The shoulder blade is really cool because it can move in like so many different planes and in so many different ways. If you think about your shoulders and you could actually do this, if you wanted, while you're listening to the podcast, um, our shoulder blades move up and down, right.
We can lift them up towards our ears, which is elevation. We can pull them down towards our waists. That's depressed. We can protract and retract them. Protracting would be separating the shoulder blades away from each other away from the spine so that they wrap forward towards the sides of the rib cage.
And then we can retract [00:06:00] them and pull the shoulder blades back towards the spine, back towards each other, giving your spine a little hug. And they also rotate. They don't rotate the way our spine rotates on that axis, but they swing up as we lift our arm overhead and they swing down as you lower your arm back down. So they do this rotation as well, which allows for, you know, far greater mobility in our arm.
If you carry tension in your shoulders and what you may have heard your Pilates teacher say a bajillion times to relax your shoulders is- I mean, a lot of us carry tension in our trapezius, which is this muscle that kind of runs from our neck to the tops of our shoulders. Um, it can get very tight. If you think about the way you lift your shoulders, when it's cold, that kind of elevation action. Sometimes if that muscle is tense. It's already lifted.
And [00:07:00] I think after the break, we're going to dive a little bit deeper into things that our Pilates teachers may say about our shoulders and sometimes what they're saying and what they mean and what you're understanding are different. So I want to kind of dive into Pilates and your shoulder. Yeah, let's do that after the break. That's coming up next.
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All right. Pilates and your shoulder. As I mentioned right before the break, every Pilates teacher very likely has told you to draw your shoulders down your back at some point, or relax your shoulders, or pull your shoulders away from your ears or no shoulder earrings or something like that. I've made that cue before.
And I think what I meant to happen, and then what actually happened can sometimes be different. @ze_moves on [00:09:00] Instagram was just talking about this and it really made me stop and think because if you're carrying unnecessary tension in your shoulders, when I asked you to draw your shoulders down your back, I don't even think that that's exactly what I meant. What I meant was unclench the muscle that is currently clenched.
There's too much tension on one side, right? Your shoulders are unnecessarily elevated, right. They're lifted. And what I want you to do is not really just pull them down and create, you know, more tension on the other side of things. What I just want you to do is unclench, if that makes sense.
This is something that I've wrestled with because there. Every movement is a pendulum, right? There's a spectrum and you can be extremely active in one place and then not at all active [00:10:00] in the other. In the case of lifting your shoulders, you're extremely active in lifting your shoulders, not active in, uh, depressing your shoulders. But you can also over depress your shoulders and that can also lead to a lot out of sadness. And yeah, there's just a difference between releasing tension in a place that's tight versus adding additional tension.
And another reason I want to share this is that there are some assumptions about the shoulder that Pilates Elephants podcast had been discussing. And Pilates Elephants is a really cool podcast made by Breathe Education, which is a Pilates school in Australia. And if you're interested in hearing more about the stuff that I'm about to share, really recommend that you check out episode 29, talking about shoulder stability, because it was also an inspiration for this bit.
We have some assumptions as people who do Pilates, as people who teach [00:11:00] Pilates, we just have some assumptions about the shoulder, uh, namely that your shoulders, your shoulder blades, this is really about the scapula. So the assumption that your shoulder blade can be in the wrong place, that as a teacher you'll know when the shoulder blade is in the wrong place. If the shoulder blade is in the wrong place, something bad is going to happen, then you'll get injured. We assume that we can do exercise to get your shoulder into the right place. And then if your shoulder blade is in the right place or symptoms will be alleviated. But those are assumptions have been proven kind of time and time again, to be not true, which is.
Listening to that, when I first listened to it, you're like, then what am I supposed to do? Right. If, if we really don't know what's going on with the shoulder, or if that your shoulder blade position isn't necessarily going to contribute or not contribute [00:12:00] to any pain or sensation that you're feeling in your shoulder.
So what we know about the shoulder and shoulder injuries and what we know about the body in general is that movement helps. Allowing your shoulder to move helps. We know that not moving, it only exacerbates any stuff that's going on and keeping it mobile, uh, is important. And one way you can move your arms and a bunch of different ways is in Pilates.
There's also something to be said for shoulders, but for any part of your body, really in this, and that's this idea of engaging with discomfort, especially if you've had an injury, you can become really sensitive in the area that was injured. And part of that is your body's defense mechanism. It doesn't want to experience the pain of injury again.
So it, every sensation you'll feel in that area, your brain will send out, you know, red flags and be [00:13:00] like, oh, you know, I feel something here and I'm really worried about it. So I'm going to put out all these signals that you're going to interpret as pain, and then you're going to stop moving. But I don't know if there's something about leaning into discomfort that in the shoulder I've been thinking about this, but just in the body in general as well.
And something else that was discussed in the Pilates Elephants podcast is that the recovery process can take time. And for a shoulder injury, you know, it can take up to 12 months for your body to heal. Just, you know, if you were doing nothing, it can take up to 12 months. You can do exercise physical therapy or just moving your arm and that can contribute to healing quicker, but it can still take quite a bit of time and just managing your expectations about how your healing journey is going to go.
One last thing that I think is just really [00:14:00] important for you to keep in mind is that our bodies are designed to move. Our shoulder blade do swing up when we lift our arm overhead. And that's not a bad thing. The goal is not total stillness and Pilates. The goal is not to not move. Right. The goal is to move in a specific way.
And just for fun, for yourself, the next time you lift your arms up over head, whether you're in a studio and you've got a mirror, you can see yourself or if you're just at home, if you can look at yourself in the mirror, look and see how your shoulder lifts and just know that that contributes to the range of movement of your arm.
Lifting your shoulder blades is not inherently evil. And I feel like, especially in Pilates, shoulders have this like really bad rap. And I want to apologize to my students because I know that I've contributed to that thought process as well, but that [00:15:00] your shoulders move and allowing them to move is okay.
So that's a really long episode to get to that conclusion, but you know, that's how it is that our shoulder blades can move. When something hurts in our shoulders and there's a fear around movement, the belief that something is wrong, is as powerful as what's going on in your shoulder. So I guess my only recommendation would be to be curious and keep moving.
Really big thank you to Christine for that question. And thank you to all my supporters on buy me a coffee. I'm really looking forward to this month's Zoom chats as always. If you have any questions, please reach out. I'd love to chat about the body and Pilates. I hope you have a great couple of weeks and I'll talk to you again [00:16:00] soon.
Thanks for tuning into this week's episode of Pilates Students' Manual, a podcast helping you get the most out of your Pilates classes. Be sure to check out the podcast Instagram at @pilatesstudentsmanual and subscribe wherever you're listening. Interested in teaching Pilates? Check out Pilates Teachers' Manual, available everywhere you listen to podcasts. I hope to see you next episode. Until next time. [00:17:00]