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Happy Halloween to all you trick and treaters! As the holidays fast approach, we share the splendid weather and an exciting football season. The past few e-newsletters focused on the body’s four primary Spring Systems™ and their ability to transmit ground reaction forces across spinal segments in closed-chain movements such as walking. While many somatic therapists are aware of the important role ‘core’ musculature (multifidus, transverse abdominis, respiratory and pelvic diaphragms, thoracolumbar fascia, etc.) play in stabilization and energy transfer during movement, some may be uncertain about the duties of the upper extremities.

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In smooth cross-patterned gait, the shoulder girdle and arms are recruited to help provide additional stabilization and intensity allowing ground reaction forces to transfer energy unimpeded through the trunk. A primary necessity is improving stability of the upper limbs at articulation sites where bone-meets-bone. My Advanced Myoskeletal Techniques for Shoulder, Arm and Hand videos begin with the assessment and mobilization of the sternoclavicular, acromioclavicular, glenohumeral, elbow, and wrist/hand joints. Loss of ‘joint-play’ in any of these bony articulations creates muscle guarding that, not only disrupts the hands’ functional ability to perform intricate tasks, but also diminishes the body’s acceleration power during gait.

Shoulder Complexity

The label “shoulder complex” appropriately describes the complexities encountered when dealing with pain in this commonly dysfunctional area. Comprised of three joints and one primary articulation, the bones are moved by a complex array of twenty muscles that, when functioning properly, permit the greatest mobility of any joint in the body. The three primary muscles supporting the shoulder complex are pectoralis minor, subclavius, and teres minor — but don’t let the names fool you. They are neither substandard nor minor in their effects on the shoulder.

Clearly, these pivot muscles set the position of the shoulder so larger muscles with greater leverage (lats, traps, pecs, and delts) can perform gross movements at the shoulder and arm. However, when underlying core pivot muscles spasm from tension, trauma or poor posture, fascial contractures bind down associated joints leading to reflexogenic muscle guarding and formation of neurologic pain/spasm/pain cycles. This ultimately triggers a wide array of shoulder complaints whose exact nature depends on the individual’s pattern usage.

Enhancing performance in sports and daily activity is determined entirely by neuromuscular efficiency and metabolic vitality. For maximum proficiency, a muscle’s reaction force must be effectively transferred through the kinetic chain at a velocity consistent with the requisite movement speeds of the activity. This is accomplished, in part, through neutralizing and stabilizing muscles that precisely control reaction force across joints and accelerate or decelerate movement to fulfill the desired outcome.

For example, during a tennis serve, power generated by the shoulder must follow a kinetic chain beginning with energy produced by the legs, trunk and back. Since the muscle mass of the shoulder is relatively small, if inadequate momentum is generated by the preceding links in the kinetic chain, the shoulder has to play ‘catch-up’ and generate power rather than acting as a force regulator.

Consequently, improving muscle/joint function in the four Spring Systems of the legs, lumbars and trunk stabilizers reduces the incidence of rotator-cuff, ligament, and joint capsule injuries. Bottom line: Efficient movement requires each muscle to produce, reduce, and amplify forces at any given joint through proprioceptive management of the action (including postural equilibrium).

The reflexogenic relationship of muscles and joints is the core of the myoskeletal method. Biomechanical assessment of specific joints will help determine the presence of soft tissue injuries. In skilled hands joint mobilization combined with myofascial balancing provides crucial and effective modalities for injury prevention and sports enhancement.