The next time you’re working out at the gym or hanging out at the beach, take a subtle visual survey of other people’s resting shoulder blade positions, from behind. A careful examination will reveal that most people’s scapulae are all but even. Often, one shoulder blade sits higher than the other or one is further from the spine than the other. While examining your own shoulder blade position may be nearly impossible on your own, you may want to ask a friend to take a picture of your back so you can see if you fit the “normal” scenario of having “crooked” shoulder blades.
Issues with Uneven Height
When shoulder blade heights are uneven, the cause is typically related to a person’s dominant side. Someone who is right-handed, or right side dominant, usually has the right scapula sitting slightly lower than the left, while left-handed people tend to have their left shoulder blades sitting lower than their right. There is no problem with that kind of unevenness.
However, if the opposite positioning is the case (you’re right-handed, and your right shoulder blade sits higher than your left, or vice versa for “lefties”), the unevenness could be indicative of a problem. Perhaps certain muscle groups on your dominant side are too tight or weak. If you’re experiencing neck or shoulder pain and notice abnormal unevenness of your shoulder blades, consult your doctor or physical therapist.
Issues with Distance
While issues related to uneven height are fairly rare, shoulder pain often accompanies scapular distance from the spine. While the medical community is not in agreement about the optimum distance from the spine to the shoulder blade, three finger widths is the generally accepted norm. When a person’s should blade sits further than that from the spine, the results vary from impingements, chronic neck pain, and rotator cuff tendonitis — none of which are pleasant to experience. Often, such positioning is due to prolonged forward posture, typically stemming from using a computer mouse regularly. (That’s not to say that laptops provide the perfect answer, either, though! Read why.) The constant movement can pull the shoulder blade outward, leading to chronic pain.
Dealing with Unevenness
In order to combat the problems associated with uneven shoulder blades, you can perform some simple exercises that will pull the shoulder blades back into ideal positioning. By working your back muscles in a shortened position, you’ll avoid the common problem of over-training frontal muscles while under-training back muscles. When your gym routine includes scapular exercises (like the one below), you’ll be helping to alleviate shoulder blade position problems. Another antidote that will help you avoid future problems is to arrange your computer components more ergonomically to minimize your need to reach or strain your muscles.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
From the PhysioDC blog:
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Image credits: Top by Pierre Brumder / Fotolia; Bottom by WONG SZE FEI / Fotolia.