Upward rotation of the scapula is important not just for the snatch but for all overhead movements.
Pain when performing overhead movements?
Ever thought it might just be your scapula rotation causing this discomfort? Scapula upward rotation prevents compression and shearing forces in your shoulder when humeral elevation occurs in overhead movements such as the snatch (Borsa et al., 2003). To allow the snatch to take place the scapula and humerus perform a coupled motion with support from scapula stabilisers, in this instance, upward rotators perform a coupled force motion of the upper trapezius, lower trapezius and serratus anterior (Paine et al., 2013).
What is the snatch?
The movement of the barbell from the floor to overhead in one jerking motion. This movement requires strength, coordination, explosiveness, mobility and stability (Long, 2014). To enable this movement to be performed effectively and pain-free, the scapula MUST upwardly rotate (Larsen 2014). This will enable support of the barbell weight and your arms to be suddenly snatched above your head (Lo, 2014).
Important: This isn’t just for CrossFitters, any movement performed overhead upward scapular rotation MUST occur.
Pain when snatching?
Clinically it has been shown that patients suffering from shoulder impingement suffer from decreased scapular upward rotation (Borsa et al., 2003), therefore, showing the importance of this simple scapula movement.
Scapular dyskinesis is referred to as abnormal scapula movement such as decreased upward scapular rotation. This could be the root cause of your shoulder pain when snatching, as someone who has scapula dyskinesis is more likely to suffer from a shoulder injury (Cools, 2014).
3 types of scapula dyskinesia can be identified with the overhead athlete:
- Infero-medial border prominence-downwardly rotated scapula
- Medial border prominence- Inside the border of the scapula is ‘asleep’ causing the scapular to wing
- Supero-medial border prominence- upwardly rotated scapula
These scapular dyskinesis cause altered biomechanics to occur affecting your full performance potential for the snatch and increasing your risk of injury.
Been told to keep your scapula down?
This is the worst thing you could do in overhead movements. The downward rotators can cause a common destructive force to your shoulder. This enhances type 1 scapula dyskinesis where downward rotators are turned up (pectoral minor, rhomboids, levator scapulae) and upward rotators are turned down (lower trapezius, serratus anterior, upper trapezius) (Larsen, 2014) enhancing your probability of injury.
Scapula stabilisers should be trained to work together to allow upward rotation on the elevation of arms and downward rotation on the lowering of arms.
Decreased upward scapular rotation increases the chances of…
- Increased shearing forces through the joint (Lo, 2014)
- Decreased space inside the glenohumeral joint (shoulder) with the elevation of arms (Sayce, 2011)
- Increased downward scapula rotation= increased downward force on acromion (Larsen, 2014) leading to decreased subacromial space (space between humerus and acromion where important structures lie etc. your rotator cuff and subacromial bursa)
- Upper trapezius becoming less effective in maintaining upward rotation due to dominance over downward rotators= enhanced downward rotation (Larsen, 2014)
- Weakness in scapula stabilizers leads to altered shoulder biomechanics (Paine et al., 2013).
This could lead to the feeling of… Pinching? Sharp pain? Discomfort?
Common injuries related to decreased upward scapula rotation
- Subacromial impingent- compression of subacromial structures
- Neural structures overloaded
- External rotator cuff overload of supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor
- Damage to subacromial bursa (subacromial bursa: a synovial cavity below your acromion)
- Damage to the glenohumeral labrum (glenohumeral labrum: fibrocartilaginous rim attached around glenoid rim adding stability to the joint)
This blog outlines the importance of upward scapular rotation in the snatch. For any questions, don’t hesitate to fill out the contact form below.
- Borsa, P.A; Timmons, M.K; Sauers, E.L. (2003) Scapula positioning patterns during humeral elevation in unimpaired shoulders. J Athl Train. 38 (1), pp.12-17
- Cools, A (2014) Unruly scapula assessment and retraining. Physio Edge podcast
- Lo, A (2014) CrossFit Injuries. Physio Edge podcast
- Larsen, U. (2014) Shoulder rehab: Renovating the house from the inside out. Rehab trainer
- Larsen, U. (2014) The gym junkie’s painful shoulder: an imbalanced ‘house’ that needs a full renovation. Rehab trainer
- Larsen, U. (2014) Shoulder rehab: Rehab with the 3 renovators. Rehab trainer
- Long, Z. (2014) The full snatch. CrossFit
- Paine, R; Voight, M.L. (2013) The role of the scapula. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 8 (5), pp.617-628
- Sayce, T. (2011) The shoulder: what every swim coach/athlete should know-scapula rotation. Shoulder care, Sayco performance athletics.