There are lots of similarities in the painful or dysfunctional shoulder. In general, most of these young men and women sit at the top of the heap in their overall size, strength, and power capabilities. This is a great advantage to have over your competition but in many cases, like the ones we see often, these strengths expose many different weaknesses.
The one we’re highlighting here is “ipsilateral thoracic spine rotation lack”. We just call it ‘thrower’s spine’. During normal trunk rotation and shoulder horizontal abduction (think cocking the throwing arm) the t-spine and ribs should rotate and angle themselves back toward the direction of the dominant arm. More often than not in our painful or dysfunctional baseball and softball players this lack of dominant side rotation is very apparent.
If you are working with throwing athletes, be sure to check and address this aspect of their movement econ. This lack of mobility will ask the shoulder to produce the remaining mobility needed to complete the throw.
As has been previously discussed, the movement economics of asking the shoulder to do what the t-spine should be doing is obvious. We’re taking an activity that by itself is already violent and difficult and therefore very movement costly and adding more ways to waste movement capital. Unless the movement account is VERY BIG, there won’t be too many throws before you are overdrawn.
It is very important to know what other mobility or stability issues exist in your athletes. If ‘thrower’s spine’ isn’t the most significant movement econ issue, then this mobilization won’t deposit the biggest lump sum to the movement account. If it is, then here is a great first-line treatment and home exercise that we use with great effectiveness: the side-lying t-spine rotation (documented as SL T/S rot):
Have the athlete lie on his/her non-dominant side. If they are right-handed throwers, they should be lying on their left. Next, they should maximally flex their hips up toward their chest as in the ‘fetal’ position. This posture ensures that all of the subsequent rotation happens at the t-spine and not with help from the hips or lumbar spine. Lastly, the athlete will place their hand behind their head or will reach straight ahead with their dominant arm as in pushing away from their chest. The set-up is complete.
The mobilization is simple: The athlete will turn their head toward their dominant side as far as it possible. Once the cervical spine is maximally rotated, begin to track the elbow or arm in as big of an arc as possible toward the dominant side. Once the barrier to continued rotation is met, the position is held; a long 5 count is fine. At this time, there shouldn’t be pain but restriction to further movement or an urge to lift the knees is normal. Keep the knees together and the bottom knee in contact with the ground/plinth. The mobilization should be done x10 and then t-spine rotation reassessed in standing. If there is a major difference between sides, mobilization should be done more toward the deficient side.
Note: There are some pretty high-quality videos of this self-mobe available if you simply search 'side lying thoracic spine mobilization.'
This movement econ strategy should add the funds necessary to get you or your athletes back on the hill.