Shoulder biomechanics in back bending - Part 1 Scapulothoracic joint

Get the most out of backbends by knowing what to do with your shoulders.
Ashleigh Flanagan
May 12, 2022

Being aware of your shoulder positioning when back bending is essential because;

Joints of the shoulder 

The shoulder complex is three synovial joints and a pseudo joint.

These are: 

-Sternoclavicular (SC)- collar bone articulated with the breast bone
-Acromioclavicular (AC)- collar bone articulates with the shoulder blade
-Glenohumeral (GH)- Arm articulates with the shoulder blade
-Scapulothoracic- Describing the movement of the shoulder blade over the rib cage

While all of these joints are important for good shoulder movement, this series will focus on the glenohumeral and scapulothoracic joints, as these have the most significant impact on backbends.

This post focuses on the scapulothoracic joint.

Scapulothoracic joint

The scapulothoracic joint isn’t a true joint as there is no structural /ligamentous connection between the scapular and the thoracic rib cage. It has an important role in increasing the freedom of movement of the shoulder while maintaining stability and control. For example, approximately ⅓ of shoulder abduction (lifting your arm overhead) is upward rotation of the scapular. 

The scapulothoracic joint has great movement potential.

While the scapular isn’t connected to the back, the muscles that move it are. 

Though we can move our spines independent of our shoulder movements, most backbends benefit from degrees of scapular depression, retraction and upward rotation to facilitate the engagement of muscles that also extend the back. 

This doesn’t mean that all backbends need maximal retraction/depression/upward rotation. For example, a scorpion handstand requires relative shoulder protraction and downward rotation combined with depression to increase shoulder stability. 

‘Shoulders down and back’

Shoulder posture is great to cue because we have fairly good awareness of the movement patterns. I find using imagery and relating to familiar tasks more effective that cueing ‘shoulders down and back'. 

Here are some of my favourites;

'Back pack' - Scapular depression & retraction

'Meerkat' - Scapular depression & retraction
'Bodybuilder' - Scapular depression & upward rotation

Next post in this series will look at the role and responsibilities of the glenohumeral joint in back bending.

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