How to test your shoulder mobility – Part 1: Overhead Shoulder Mobility

For our bodies to work their best, we have to have

  1. Enough movement aka Mobility at each joint and
  2. Enough strength and coordination to control the movement.

Overhead Reach or Shoulder Flexion

Full Mobility= able to put your arms straight up overhead.

Think you got it? Not so fast! You need to test to know for sure. Many people think they have full mobility but actually lack a little (or a lot) of motion.

Lack of full shoulder flexion can cause 3 problems:

1) Pinching or “impingement” of shoulder structures in the overhead position = shoulder pain and tendinitis

2) Shoulder muscles have to work too hard in the overhead position = shoulder pain and tendinitis, excessive fatigue in the overhead position, and less than optimal lifting performance

3) Leaning backward when reaching or pressing overhead = back pain when lifting overhead, especially heavy weights

The first picture to the right shows the arms not quite all the way overhead. In the second picture, the lifter brings her arms straight up by bending her back. This can cause increased pressure and pain in the low back.

Ready to test your Overhead Shoulder Mobility?

Test 1: Overhead shoulder blade reach

Raise your arm up and try to bring it behind your head and touch the top of your opposite shoulder blade. You pass if you can do this easily WITHOUT PAIN. If you cannot reach your opposite shoulder blade, or you really struggle to do it, or you have pain, then you have LIMITED MOBILITY.

This test is a combination of 3 different shoulder motions. You need to test further to see which specific motions you lack. We will look at that in future articles.

Test 2: Overhead against the wall

  • Grab a dowel, broom or PVC pipe
  • Sit with your back flat against a wall. This is so that you can’t cheat by arching your back to get your arms overhead.
  • Hold your stick with your hands just outside shoulder width
  • Press overhead, keeping your elbows straight
  • The back of your hands should be able to touch the wall

Did you pass? If so, CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!

If not, there are several different reasons your shoulder may lack mobility. We will cover them on future articles, but some possible reasons are:

  • Tight muscles: Latissimus dorsi (Lats), Pectoralis minor (Pecs), Teres Major, Subscapularis
  • Tight shoulder capsule
  • Limited thoracic mobility

Do you lack shoulder mobility or have shoulder pain? Come see me before it gets worse! I’ll figure out the root cause, eliminate your pain and show you how to fix it. Click below if you are ready to be pain free and feeling great.

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