Home Blog Shoulder Problems: Check your Hip and Ankle

Shoulder Problems: Check your Hip and Ankle

Written on July 27, 2007 at 10:19 am, by Eric Cressey

When we’re discussing functional anatomy, one thing that a ton of people overlook is the effect of fascia on how we move. Anatomy charts are always nice and neat for us, but anyone who has ever taken gross anatomy or watched a surgery will tell you that there is fascia EVERYWHERE. This connective tissue both facilitates and restricts movement, and as is the case with muscles, fascial restrictions (adhesions) can negatively affect how we perform.

A common example of this phenomenon that might surprise you involves the spiral line, a fascial “train” Thomas Myers brought to light in his fantastic book, Anatomy Trains. Essentially, the spiral line links one shoulder girdle to the opposite leg. If you have restrictions in the spiral line, both “ends” of the train will be negatively affected. This is one reason why I almost always see poor flexibility in the opposite ankle and hip in anyone who has a shoulder problem that involves tightness of some sort in the shoulder girdle.

Additionally, we know that via the “serape effect,” the latissimus dorsi works intimately with the opposite gluteus maximus during the sprinting motion. The only way that this “link” is possibly is through the thoracolumbar fascia, a dense section of connective tissue that helps to transfer force.

So what are the take-home points?

1. Don’t overlook the importance of soft-tissue work! It’s tough to stretch fascia, but modalities like foam rolling, massage, and ART can make a huge difference.

2. Injuries never occur in isolation; as the shoulder-hip-ankle connection verifies, we need to look at the body as a whole.

3. If you spot poor shoulder mobility on one side, as part of your corrective exercise approach, incorporate plenty of mobility exercises and soft-tissue work for the opposite ankle and hip.

Eric Cressey

5 Responses to “Shoulder Problems: Check your Hip and Ankle”

  1. Former Fat Guy Says:

    Yep, that was exactly my problem. Major shoulder issue for a couple of years. Finally my massage therapist and personal trainer realized that it was my hip that was the issue.

    Now my trainer has me doing functional exercises to strengthen the connection between shoulder and opposing hip, ankle.

    great post

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Z-Health trainers have known this for quite some time. You studied with Dr. Cobb right? Great to see this information getting out there..

  3. Mike T Nelson Says:

    Great info EC and I am glad to see you are pushing the idea of “all the body all the time” as Dr. Cobb and others advocate.

    The people that I have worked with a shoulder issue I have yet to do much with their shoulder. Mostly it is opposite hip, opposite ankle, and same side wrist are the top 3 in my experience. Either way, you need to eval the whole athlete, try something and then re-assess to see if it worked.

    Remember that the nervous system governs all the soft tissue, joints, muscles, etc in the body and this must be addressed also.

    Keep putting out the great info and spreading the good word!

    Mike T Nelson

  4. Malarie Says:

    This is the problem I am having. I have suffered from shoulder pain for several years now, and recently i popped my SI. The shoulder pain disappeared completely for a while. But now that my SI is back in place, my shoulder pain has returned. Could anyone send me examples of the kind of exercises i should do to correct the whole issue? I am not familiar with the terms described in point 1. of this article. What is Soft tissue work, foam rolling, or ART?

  5. Daniel Says:

    I’m having similar problems to Malarie… This post describes something remarkably similar to what I’m experiencing though. I tore my labrum in high school, and about a year later had a hip injury, on the opposite side. I was intensely involved in athletics at the time, and I’m not anymore, but I’m beginning to get into a more rigorous level of physical conditioning again. My postural abnormalities are something I’m looking to correct (I’m so crooked my 6 pack is literally skewed- not a spinal issue though, it seems my muscles have grown in sideways. They’re also pulling the different sides of my pelvis into different angles of forward/backward rotation. Very strange), so I’m doing a lot of stretching, and I’ve noticed a strange correlation between the opposite hip and shoulder. There seems to be a band running from my ankle all the way up to my opposite shoulder, and it’s one that I sense is VERY tight. My current posture, however (hindered by my lack of core strength, etc), is masking this tightness, and only when I do intensive stretching for around 20 minutes at least and begin to feel my body align itself correctly does this tightness manifest itself.

    What can I do to isolate the muscles contributing to this tightness, or where can I go to learn more about how to approach it? I think I have a very unique problem, and I’d love to be on the road to fixing it. Thanks in advance.

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