Category Archives: Shoulder

SHOULDERS: Metaphors and Physical Body

Metaphors abound when it comes to the body’s shoulders. What comes to mind when we say or hear the word, shoulder, is a sense of being strong, supportive and to take upon oneself a task. The expression of shoulders is used in familiar quotes, such as, “Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders”. “She has a good head on her shoulders”. “Lifting the burden off our shoulders”. “I got a cold shoulder from him”. Shoulders are very expressive in communicating our feelings. When we are in doubt, we shrug our shoulders. Shoulder is also used as a verb, shouldering. Shouldering is defined as “to put something heavy over the shoulders to carry” and “to push or shove someone out of the way”.

In the physical body, we tend to not think about our shoulders if they are healthy and happy. The moment a restriction is present, our daily movements are inhibited making our life more difficult to navigate. Healthy and functioning shoulders give us the sense of strength in our lives.

Shoulders require a combination of mobility and strength. The shoulder is the head of the humeral bone. The arms, scapula, clavicle, the ribs (first two ribs especially) and the neck are all involved with the dynamic motions of the shoulder. You can read more detail about the shoulders and neck in my book, “Centered” chapters 7 and 8.

In the next series of member videos, the Bow and Arrow Series, was inspired by my archery hobby. Shooting an arrow requires a balance of strength and flexibility of the shoulder. I developed a series of shoulder complex and spine movements that enhances the strength with the mobility of the shoulders.

A way to assess your mobility of the whole complex is by performing the Apley scratch test. Dr. Alan Apley, (1914-1996) an English orthopedic surgeon, developed the Apley scratch test to assess the simultaneous movement of the shoulder girdle, primarily scapulothoracic and glenoid humeral joints. The movements include shoulder flexion, extension, internal and external rotation of the humerus at the shoulder, scapular adduction and abduction. One movement is to flex, externally rotate the arm and scapular abduction. The other is to extend, internally rotate the arm and scapular adduction. The right arm reaches behind the back to touch the opposite inferior angle of the scapula. The left arm reaches upward reaching behind the back to touch the spine of the same side scapula. Repeat it to the other side. Watch for thoracic extension in the attempt to touch the scapula.





Normal mobility is to touch the spine of the same side scapula while reaching up and over the back. The other hand is to touch the opposite tip of the scapula. Increased mobility is to touch the finger tips together or actually grabbing the fingers.

You will feel a difference between one side with the other. Moving the thoracic spine, in coordination of the shoulder full range of motion is important for healthy and pain-free shoulders.

Test yourself first. Try all of the Bow and Arrow Series movements and re-test. You will feel a change when repeating the test.

While shooting the bow and arrows, I realized how the combined movements of shoulders, spine and scapula are important to being able to shoot well. The benefits of the training of the shoulder girdle, arms and spine with the combined motions will help my mobility and strength of my upper body.


The stance is the base of support for the ability to shoot. Adding the work of the legs with the combined arm motions made the training benefits even greater. This is why I decided to create a Bow and Arrow shoulder series.


Upper Thorax: Vertebromanubrial Region

Check out my new workshop over at Fusion Pilates.

Upper Thorax: Vertebromanubrial Region
I will guide you through the intricate relationship of the 1st- 2nd ribs, sternum with the cervical spine, shoulder mechanics and overall posture. Discover the power the upper ribs have when moving the head and arms. Also this area is one of great discomfort for many people. I’ll teach exercises on the Pilates apparatus and mat that specifically address mobility and stability of this region. See how a new perspective of the upper ribs changes your cueing that translates easily into your client’s body.

This workshop is approximately 1.2 hours long and you have 30 days of access when you purchase. Go to for details.

Shoulder Series #3: Using a Belt

ibcage and shoulder girdle cat
click to enlarge

I came across these two images both of which are views from the top of the ribcage and shoulder girdle. The human image is a skeletal view without the myofascial (muscles and fascia) slings. The cat’s image shows the slings. Notice the breast bone of the cat with the sling attachment to the leg (arm in our case) bones. Also, view the shoulder blades with its posterior sling attaching on the spine, to shoulder blade, spine to ribs and inside the shoulder blade to the ribs. We have similar structures that allows us to reach, pull and push. For the cat, imagine the cat running or jumping and how the sling would elongate on one side and shorten on the other to create the tension and spring to pounce.
Even though we do not run on all fours, we still need to have the ability to be pliable, like a cat, to move efficiently without causing damage to our joints. My shoulder series is more than about the shoulder. The movements play with the slings, moving through the elongation and tension from as far away as the pelvis giving us the elasticity to move fully with our arms.

MODIFICATIONS: The range demonstrated is a normal and full range of movement necessary for healthy shoulders.

Start where you are, practice and change is coming.

Choose some of the following to ease into the movement:

  • Use a stretchy band so that when needed the width can increase
  • Start very wide with the hands, progress toward narrowing the grip
  • Progress from lift the arms straight up to or just before a place of discomfort, stop and begin again repeating. See my blog post about my “Pancake Theory,”  the first repetition is like the first pancake. Repeat and each one gets better and easier!
  • Pay attention to your placement of the ribcage, maintain stability

Third in a series of working the shoulder region. See the first in the series, Wall Circles, and the second, Doorway Contract and Release.

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Shoulder Series #2: Doorway Contract and Release

shoulder series exercises by madeline blackSecond in a series of working with the shoulder region. (see first, Wall Circles and third, Using Belt)
The “Doorway Contract and Release” works the rotator cuff and the pectoral and latissimus connection to the arm. A simple contraction by pressing into the door frame and a release as the forearm moves away from the door frame moving the shoulder into external rotation. This increases range of motion, and restores strength to the shoulder. Start at a comfortable angle of the elbow to shoulder. Start lower than the shoulder and gradually move the elbow up the wall.

You should NOT experience any pain while doing this. If you do, lower the angle of the arm. Have awareness of the lower ribcage by not allowing the ribs to move forward as your arm moves backward. Exhale on the movement of the forearm away from the wall so that you create a connection into the core to stabilize the lower ribs. It increases the motion at the shoulder.

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Shoulder Series #1: Wall Circle

shoulder exercises by madeline blackThe shoulder has attachments as far away as your pelvis in the back and in the front. These attachments are not only arise from the same side of the pelvis but also cross from the shoulder to the opposite hip. This allows for the whole full circling of the arm. At any point along the attachments there can be restrictions impeding the movement of the shoulder. Performing the wall circle will free up the restrictions. You may find that movement if the spine and pelvis also improves. Be mindful of your ability. Never move into pain, and allow your body’s intelligence to guide you how the movement is performed. An example is you may need to be farther away from the wall or you begin with a partial circle. With continued practice, you will find the movement changes.

First in a series of working the shoulder region. See the second, Doorway Contract and Release, and the third, Using a Belt.

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