Understanding the Functional Anatomy of the Shoulder Complex and How it Relates to Your Performance

Athletes shoulder pain
The shoulder isn’t just a simple joint. In fact, the shoulder is a complex of multiple joints and muscle groups. It is incredibly mobile and allows you to generate force to throw a baseball or spike a volleyball.

To maximize your performance and reduce the risk of injury, it’s imperative that you understand how the shoulder complex functions.

The Shoulder is Designed for Motion

To better understand the function of the shoulder complex, picture a golf ball sitting on a tee. This is the glenohumeral (GH) joint’s function by design—a full range of motion through many planes but little structural stability.

The rotator cuff muscles are responsible for providing stability (keeping the golf ball on the tee) to the gleno-humeral joint.

Stabilizing the joint is easy when your arm is immobilized. However, it requires a lot more work when you’re throwing a ball or swinging a bat.

Furthermore, the mobility and stability of the shoulder joint relies on muscle function. It will be compromised if there is a weakness or imbalance in the rotator cuff muscles.

Microtrauma Can Lead to Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff consists of four muscles that pull the humeral head (ball) into the glenoid (socket) during arm movement.

When these rotator cuff muscles aren’t doing their job well, there is extra stress on the glenohumeral joint.

The repetitive microtrauma that accumulates over weeks, months and even years can lead to injury. This is common with baseball and volleyball players and even CrossFitters. The pain starts slowly and builds up over time.  

It’s not just overuse that causes microtrauma to the shoulder. A common problem is that athletes continue to perform after they are fatigued. This means they are exceeding their ability to control motion through the shoulder complex. This is why youth baseball leagues and even Major League teams use pitch counts.

Whether throwing, hitting or pressing overhead, doing so when you’ve lost the ability to control the kinetic chain can lead to injury.

RELATED:  Check out some shoulder strengthening moves in 7 TRX Strength Moves for Your Upper Body

Function is Key

Shoulder treatments will help reduce pain and swelling when dealing with an injury. Unfortunately, this is where many athletes fail at rehabilitation. They “chase the pain,” treating only the area that’s hurt. It’s a quick fix to relieve the pain, but it fails to address the source of the problem.
Instead, you’re more likely to eliminate the risk of re-injuring your shoulder if you focus on improving the function of the entire kinetic chain. This requires a greater understanding of biomechanics, physiology and motor control.
Yes rehab should eliminate your pain. Still, it also should focus on targeting areas of the body that you may not think directly correlate to the shoulder. That’s how you fix it over the long run.

Coach’s Guide to Ankle Mobility


Ankle mobility has been the topic of wide discussion lately, and it’s no wonder why. Ankle injuries are one of the most common in training and sport.   Understanding a proper approach to gaining adequate ankle mobility can get lost in the complexity of training the inverters, everters, dorsiflexors, plantarflexors and other stabilizers that control the ankle.

In addition, the system of intrinsic muscles that make up the arches of the foot also play a role in ankle mobility. Furthermore, this does not take into account the relationships of stability and mobility that occur at the knee, hip, and lower back. With so much to consider where do you start in identifying and training an athlete with potential ankle mobility limitations.

As a coach, you want to make sure your workout and coaching program are not limited. This means you have to address any dysfunction that could relate to managing a current injury, readiness of returning to sport and reducing the possibility of re-injury or for an athlete who has never been injured.

  • It is important for athletes to train together however, knowing each athlete has different patterns and compensations for achieving movement is paramount.

    They should be grouped prior to sport specific training to address the corrective needs necessary for regaining optimal, functional ankle movement.

  • Being a hinge joint, the ankle is designed to move.

    For this reason, correcting and maintaining any asymmetries to an athlete’s ankle is of great importance. Proper movement should occur at the ankle and hip, which are designed for mobility, while the foot, knee and low back are designed to provide stability. An athlete has greater potential to improve within his sport if the efficiency of mobility and stability are taking place in the correct joints of the body. Utilizing the Functional Movement Screen for identification of ankle mobility restrictions or other asymmetries and dysfunction is essential for developing and correcting improper movement patterns.

  • Asymmetries are part of some sports.  Baseball, for example, demands differences between the right and left shoulder and track, so the athlete is constantly favoring one side. Those asymmetries are expected, however shoulder should be pain free and within an acceptable range of motion. These asymmetries should not affect the mechanics of the rest of the body’s fundamental movement patterns. These considerations must be taken into account when hitting the weight room or performing skill based movement drills.
  • Soft tissue release through foam rolling and mysofascial ball, as well as half kneeling correctives can all improve ankle range of motion.

    The biggest benefits come from addressing asymmetrical or dysfunctional areas of the body. This allows the ankle to move as it should, instead of as a stabilizer, which if compensating can limit ankle mobility.

Come get a Functional Movement Screen and proper corrective exercise program to get you back on the right path with the elite coaches at Velocity Sports Performance.