Do you suffer from Shoulder Injuries and Issues?
I had a nice reply to one of my recent emails about Anatomy from acroyogi and teacher from the US - Bryson.
He asked about shoulder issues in acro and why they seem to be quite prominent as he's been having some issues with his shoulder.
I thought it would be a good topic to discuss in full detail, so here's my thoughts and ideas of how to avoid shoulder issues in acro!
Firstly shoulder issues are something I've got a good amount of experience with!
Both from acro, but also before when I used to do more weightlifting and gym workouts.
I've actually injured both of my shoulders.
One time was due to crashing into a wall when playing squash, and I ended up disrupting my right ACJ (acromioclavicular joint).
Another time was from weightlifting in the gym which also damaged some ligaments around my left ACJ.
Plus I have had some coordination and muscular imbalances due to these injuries not being fully rehabilitated properly.
And those issues show up in my acro practice a bit nowadays.
So here are my thoughts and take on the troublesome shoulder, and in relation to an acro practice...
1. The Shoulder joint in general is highly mobile but not so stable.
From an anatomical point of view it is a ball and socket joint with a huge range of motion (it's actually the joint with the greatest range of motion in our whole body).
But it isn't designed (anatomically speaking) for weight-bearing.
We are evolutionarily evolved to hang/pull, and push the ground with our arms or push forwards - we evolutionarily have no real need to push things above our heads.
Therefore when we want to use our shoulders for pushing (especially overhead) we are more susceptible to injury due to lack of strength and stability in those ranges of motion and lack of conditioning.
2. The loads in acro can be significant.
This is of course all relatively speaking, but the weights in acro are relatively high.
We often are basing someone who is a similar bodyweight to us, a bit less or a bit more sometimes maybe.
Also if you're doing or flying handstands you're putting your whole body weight through your shoulders in a directly overhead position.
If you compare this to shoulder exercises in the gym it's pretty rare you will see people lifting their own bodyweight in overhead shoulder presses or even inclined chest presses.
Plus in acro you have to add in several additional factors, like instability and dynamic loading - which increases the relative weight by adding inertia momentarily.
(With my engineering background I could go into more detail on this and bore you to death, but a simple explanation is - think about when you jump and land, your weight momentarily upon impact feels like much more because of the inertia from falling.)
What this means is if someone jumps heavily into a hand to hand the momentary weight is much more for the base to receive, and for the flyers shoulders to resist.
So this just means the demands in acro sometimes on the shoulders is quite a lot, meaning we need to train and prepare more for this.
3. If you're lacking the ideal strength and control, the body will compensate.
So if you aren't quite strong and stable enough to manage the load in a certain move in acro, the body will react and compensate - especially when it comes to the shoulders.
This is very visible when people start flying and basing standing hand to hands, if you observe new hand to hand flyers, you will probably notice that they end up looking wonky or one-sided due to the shoulders not having the required strength and stability.
Same for the bases, you'll see one arm or hand a bit higher than the other, and maybe one shoulder elevated and the other not.
What happens and causes this is that the body starts to recruit other muscles to try help achieve what's being asked of it.
So the pectorals, or the traps or other related muscles will start activating more to try to stabilise the position.
I have this in my left shoulder due to my old injuries I already mentioned.
The reason this is actually a bit of a problem is that over time you're training your body to recruit the wrong muscles to help achieve a pose.
In the gym we would instead reduce the weight and build up our strength in the correct muscles gradually.
But it's not so simple in acro, and so this can lead to bad habits forming and over time it actually can just become a vicious cycle where you compensate more and more with the wrong muscles.
BUT it's not all bad news!
It is possible to do acro without causing shoulder injuries, and I have some good tips and advice on how to avoid shoulder issues in acro!