Monday, July 26, 2010

The "Sleeper Stretch"

The very nature of the overhead throwing motion subjects the shoulder joint to extreme positions and forces. When this activity is repeated over time, chronic adaptations will occur. When compared to non-throwers, throwing athletes often exhibit an increase in shoulder external rotation range of motion. However, the cost of this increase in external rotation is that it is often balanced by tightness in shoulder internal rotation. When this internal rotation tightness is 20 degrees greater than the non-throwing arm, it is commonly referred to as GIRD -Glenohumeral Internal Rotation Deficit.

Muscular imbalances in a joint or structure (i.e. tightness, etc) can affect the efficiency of the joint and may force other joints to do more work than they can handle. This creates the potential for injury by over stressing the body. Further, it inhibits performance by isolating the kinetic chain, and not allowing integrated movement. GIRD, or tightness of the posterior shoulder capsule / rotator cuff musculature, has been linked to an increased risk of injury by placing added stress on the shoulder decelerators, the internal static structures of the joint (labrum), and has been linked to medial elbow pain and disfunction.

The first line of defense in the prevention and treatment of posterior shoulder tightness is the “Sleeper Stretch”. This exercise is performed by lying on your throwing arm side with knees bent. Place your bottom arm perpendicular to your body with your elbow bent at 90 degrees. Stay on your side and do not lean backwards. Using your free (top) hand, gently push your arm toward the ground until you feel a light stretch or resistance to the movement. Hold that stretch for 5-10 seconds and repeat for 5-10 repetitions. Just as tightness is an acquired adaptation to repetitive movements, flexibility results from the consistent performance of a stretching routine. The “Sleeper Stretch” may be performed several times per day making sure that the joint is not being forced into a painful position / stretch.

When the muscles around a joint are in the proper length-tension ratios, they undergo less stress and can produce more force. Performing the “Sleeper Stretch” can improve shoulder health and performance in the overhead throwing athlete.

David Yeager, ATC, CSCS

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