April 1, 2021

Shoulder and Rotator Cuff Self Myofascial Release

Written by: Zaakir Shakoor, MSc
Reviewed by: Mubashar Rehman, PHD

Why is Self-Myofascial release of the Deltoid and Rotator Cuff important?

I cannot stress enough the importance of shoulder mobility during everyday activity and exercise. The rotator cuff and deltoid muscles are vital for movements at the shoulder girdle such as; medial and lateral rotation (twisting and shoulder in and out), abduction (moving the arm away from the body laterally) flexion (moving the arm forward), and horizontal extension (moving the arm from the body horizontally) (1). Anyone who has been following my previous articles must be well aware of how soft tissue can tighten over time due to the solidification of ground substances and the formation of scar tissue, thereby causing stiffness and pain or hindering mobility of the antagonistic muscle (2, 3). If you recall, I highlighted the self-myofascial release relaxation (SMR) technique, which requires one to drive positive pressure into a trigger point i.e., the neck. 

If any of the muscles around the shoulder become overactive and tight, mobility is hindered, such as reaching out to the top of the bookshelf, opening a cupboard, gym pressing movements, etc. (1). Within this article, I will outline the shoulder muscles, their origin and insertion, joint action, and correct techniques to release tension if required.    

(Please refer to my previous articles to learn how to administrate SMR)

Self-Myofascial Release of the Rotator Cuff

1) Infraspinatus

 

Infraspinatus, CC BY-SA 2.1 JP, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Origins: Infraspinous fossa of the scapula (back flat part of shoulder blade)

Insertion: Middle part of the greater tubercle of the humerus (upper arm bone) 

Joint movement: Lateral rotation of the shoulder girdle (external)

Myofascial release: Apply positive pressure into a stiff area of the back of the shoulder blade for 30 seconds, which should be repeated 3 times (30s x 3 = 90s) 

Example exercise 1: Lay supine on top of a massage ball, applying pressure into the shoulder blade.  

Example exercise 2: Apply a curved SMR stick into the shoulder blade and apply positive pressure. 

2) Subscapularis

 

Subscapularis, CC BY-SA 2.1 JP, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Origins: Subscapular fossa of the scapula (front part of the shoulder blade) 

Insertion: Lesser tubercle of humerus (upper arm bone)

Joint movement: Medial rotation (internal)  

Myofascial release: To target the subscapularis you must apply pressure around the armpit and origin of the latissimus dorsi. Ensure not to press into the humorous at the arm pit. Positive pressure should be maintained for 40 seconds and repeated 3 times (40s x 3 =120s).

Example exercise 1: Lay laterally onto a massage ball into the side of the torso.

Example exercise 2: Create pressure with your thumb and isolate a trigger point in the subscapularis. 

3) Supraspinatus

 

Supraspinatus, CC BY-SA 2.1 JP, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Origins: Supraspinous fossa of the scapula (top of the shoulder blade, located in-between the mid-shoulder and neck) 

Insertion: Superior aspect of the greater tubercle of the humorous (upper arm bone)

Joint movement: Initiates abduction of the arm prior to the mid deltoids are triggered.

Myofascial release: Positive pressure is required at the top of the shoulder blade.

Example exercise 1: Drive pressure onto the shoulder blade, just underneath the upper trapezius, via the middle finger of the opposite arm.

Example exercise 2: Lay supine onto a massage ball, targeting to upper shoulder blade area. 

4) Teres Minor 

 

Teres Minor, CC BY-SA 2.1 JP, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Origins: Lateral border and adjacent posterior surface of the scapula (left side of the shoulder blade)

Insertion: Greater tubercle of the humerus (upper arm bone)

Joint movement: Aids in lateral rotation (external)

Myofascial release: The SMR would be similar to the infraspinatus but targeted slightly lateral.  

Example exercise 1: Lay supine, applying pressure into the shoulder blade with a massage ball.

Example exercise 2: If you are able to flex your arm horizontally, an alternative SMR method could be to drive into the trigger points with your fingers.

 

Self-Myofascial release of the Deltoid (outer shoulder) 

 

 

 

1) Anterior Deltoid

Origins: Anterior Clavicle (collar bone)

Insertion: Humorous (upper arm bone)

Joint movement: Flexion of the arm  

Myofascial release:  Target the front of the shoulder, beginning with the upper arm and up to the collar bone. Ideally, 30 seconds of pressure would be applied and repeated three times (30s x 3 = 90s).

Example exercise 1: Lay prone onto a massage ball targeting a trigger point located at the front portion of the shoulder. 

Example exercise 2: You could place a foam roller on a clean surface, lay prone on top, place the arms perpendicular and roll the front of the shoulder.  

2) Medial Deltoid

Origins: Lateral acromion of the scapula (top/side of the shoulder blade)

Insertion: Humorous (upper arm bone)

Joint movement: Abduction of the arm

Myofascial release: Target the side of the shoulder, beginning with the upper arm and up to the top of the shoulder. Ideally, 30 seconds of pressure would be applied and repeated three times (30s x 3 = 90s).

Example exercise 1: Lay laterally onto a massage ball and apply pressure into a trigger point of the mid-shoulder.

Example exercise 2: Place a massage ball on the wall and apply pressure into the side of the shoulder produced from your bodyweight and legs. 

3) Posterior Deltoid

Origins: Spine of the scapula 

Insertion: Humorous 

Joint movement: Horizontal Extension of the arm

Myofascial release: Target the back of the shoulder, beginning with the upper arm and up to the edge of the shoulder blade. Ideally, 30 seconds of pressure would be applied to the trigger point and repeated three times (30s x 3 = 90s).

Example exercise 1: Lay supine onto a massage ball and apply pressure into a trigger point of the back of the shoulder. 

Example exercise 2: Place a massage ball on the wall and apply pressure into the back of the shoulder by producing positive pressure from the legs.  

Conclusion 

When any of the shoulder joint actions are disrupted, there is a possibility of tight antagonist muscles (opposite muscle). For example, if it is difficult to horizontally flex the arm across to the chest to stimulate the pectorals, there is a good chance that the posterior deltoids are overactive. However, if a specific muscle feels tight and painful, e.g.the infraspinatus, it could be the case that the muscle itself requires releasing. There are many possibilities, so the best option would be to consult a professional such as a physiotherapist or exercise professional to conduct a functional movement assessment and provide individualized SMR and stretching recommendations. This article was designed to give you an outline of the muscles surrounding the shoulder and how to release tension if required. 

References

1.Liu, J., Hughes, Smutz, W.P., et al.  Roles of deltoid and rotator cuff muscles in shoulder elevation. Clinical Biomechanics. 2017; 12(1): 32-38

2. Beardsley, C., &.,Skarabot, J. Effects of self-myofascial release: A systematic review. Journal of bodywork and movement therapy. 2015; 19(4): 747-758

3. Cheatham, S., Kolber, M.J., Chain, M., et al. The effects of myofascial release using a roll or roller massager on joint range of motion, muscle recovery, and performance: A systematic review. International journal of sports physical therapy. 2015; 10(6): 827-838

Disclaimer: all of the information within this article is for educational purposes and is NOT intended as a personalized exercise prescription. No one can be held liable under the circumstances of damages, reparation, or monetary losses as a result of the information.

Article written by Zaakir Shakoor, MSc
Zack Shakoor Kayani was born and raised in the South East of England/London. Zack has attained a bolus of knowledge regarding biosciences through academia and his career experiences. In terms of his educational background, he has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology (Hons.), a Postgraduate diploma in sports nutrition with the International Olympic Committee, and a Master’s of Science in Nutritional Sciences. Zack has been fortunate enough to apply his Exercise Science and Nutrition Knowledge to aid Hundreds if not Thousands of Patients and Athletes, providing 1-1 consultation, Personal training, Information sheets, offering recommendations to collate nutrition and exercise programs, etc. Not to mention, in 2020, he authored a book called ‘Obesity Decoded’

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