MTOD #2: Hang or Brachiate Daily to Avoid Shoulder Impingement

MTOD 2

“Science is about defining truths about nature through experiment or experience.”
– Richard Feynman, nuclear physicist

What you’re about to learn is perhaps the most important information you’ve discovered to prevent and avoid shoulder impingement.

This morning, for the first time in probably 10 years, my shoulder didn’t pop when I lifted it up toward the ceiling and rotated it backward as far as it would go. Well, my right arm anyway.

My left arm is still popping a bit, but it’s been drastically reduced thanks to ONE exercise. And I’ve spent years trying to figure out just how I could improve my shoulder health.

Thanks to the work of John M. Kirsch, an orthopedic surgeon and perhaps one of the few voices of reason in the surgical community, I’ve been hanging daily for the last two weeks and my shoulders have never felt better.

Long story short, Dr. Kirsch took 92 patients, all who had been suffering shoulder pain for years and many of whom were advised to have shoulder surgery. ALL 92 had clinical diagnoses.

They had been diagnosed as follows:

  • 70 had subacromial impingement syndrome (SIS)
  • 16 had rotator cuff tears
  • 4 had adhesive capsulitis (aka Frozen Shoulder)
  • 2 had osteoarthritis of the glenohumeral joint with severe SIS.

After giving them a hanging protocol, 90 out of 92 of these people were able to return to the normal activities of daily living. The two that didn’t dropped out of the study.

Dr. Kirsch himself had severe shoulder impingement and completely reversed his shoulder pain and impingement in three months.

REMEMBER: Just because something is simple (but not easy) doesn’t mean it won’t be VERY effective.
Never confuse simplicity with ease and/or ineffectiveness.

Hanging increases the space and restores the proper relationship in the soft tissue of the shoulder by “reshaping the shoulder bones and ligaments and by restoring the normal flexibility to these structures.”

Understanding the coracoacromial (CA) arch is critical if you want to restore and maintain shoulder health. The CA arch is basically the tunnel where many tendons, ligaments and other soft tissue have to pass. As time, gravity, and mis-/disuse compresses the CA arch, all that soft tissue begins to degenerate. Shoulder pain and complications ensue.

The CA arch. Photo Credit: DukeMedicine
The CA arch. Photo Credit: DukeMedicine

“It is the contracture of the CA arch that is responsible for most of our troubles with our shoulders. It is the CA arch that will contract, pressing the rotator cuff and producing irritation, inflammation, pain and degeneration of the tendons. Without overhead arm activity, the space between the acromion bone and the humerus undergoes slow contracture resulting in degenerative changes.”

Through hanging and brachiation, “bone and other tissues will be reshaped as a result of stresses applied to the tissue. It is the same principle that orthodontists rely on to straighten teeth. This principle is called Wolff’s law.”

(Click here to learn more about Wolff’s law)
(Click here to learn more about mechanotransduction, or how our bodies convert mechanical forces into biological signals)
(Click here to learn more about Davis’s law, the soft tissue counterpart to Wolff’s law)

Check out the soft tissue that has to pass through the CA arch. Photo credit: coreWalking
Check out the soft tissue that has to pass through the CA arch. Photo credit: coreWalking

As Dr. Andreo Spina says, “Force is the language of cells.” Hanging is the language of force the shoulder CRAVES. Amazing things can happen when you hang.

Don’t get me wrong, hanging is not a cure-all, but all healthy shoulders must hang to stay healthy, and unhealthy shoulders should hang to become healthy.

Hanging is a requirement for shoulder health. If you never hang, there’s almost 100% chance you’ll develop shoulder issues. That’s not to say if you hang, you’ll avoid 100% of shoulder issues, but it will go a long way to develop robust and healthy soft tissue in the shoulder.

As for the safety of it? “It is clear that from more than 28 years of clinical research on the hanging exercise that it is not only safe but extremely effective in relieving and preventing the most common causes of shoulder pain.” Keep in mind, the people Dr. Kirsch studied were all well advanced in age and they were all able to benefit from hanging.

Your shoulder is designed for hanging and brachiation. Humans share nearly identical shoulder anatomy with gorillas, gibbons, orangutans, and chimpanzees – and all of them hang and brachiate to some degree or another.

To clarify: to reap these benefits, you should be doing passive, relaxed hanging. Pull-ups and active hanging are fantastic, but you need passive hanging too.

Practical info:

  • Partial hangs (where your feet provide some support) are also effective if you can’t support your full body weight for very long
  • Single arm partial hangs will also be very effective and stretch the shoulder with more variation and intensity
  • If you’ve been training for many years, your soft tissue may take longer to fully adapt than someone who is untrained and you may require higher volume and intensity to restore health to your shoulder.

Tip: Accumulate 2-5 minutes of daily hanging or brachiation for shoulder health and grip strength. Here’s how to hang if you don’t have a bar in your home:

How I hang for grip strength and shoulder health with no bar in my apartment. Throw a towel over the door jam. and you're in business.
How I hang for grip strength and shoulder health with no bar in my apartment. Throw a towel over the door jam and you’re in business.

If you found this stuff interesting, you can pick up Dr. Kirsch’s book from Amazon. It’s informative, but written and organized poorly.

As the legendary strength coach Ian King said, “The number one thing that will limit someone’s life span [and quality of life] is their mobility.” Take care of your soft tissue. Especially your shoulders. (By the way, Ian King will be on the podcast this coming Wednesday 7/30/2014…it’s a hell of a good episode)

Check out MTOD #1 to learn about grip strength and the surprising things it can predict about our health.

References:
Shoulder Pain: The Solution and Prevention
Kirsh’s website (looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1995…still good info)

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