I set out to find an effective stretch for improving shoulder internal rotation range of motion (turning your arm in or reaching you hand behind your back).  I came across this article that assessed two common stretching techniques that help to improve that shoulder range of motion; the sleeper stretch and the cross-body stretch.  The premise of these stretches are to lengthen the tightened posterior capsule of the shoulder.  Tightness of the posterior capsule restricts movement of the shoulder and causes the abnormal movement in the superior and anterior direction.  This leads to a decrease in the subacromial space and compression of the tissues leading to shoulder impingement syndrome.  Excessive movement in this direction also places abnormal stress on the superior labrum of the shoulder which can cause injury to that region.  The study concluded that the cross-body stretch, more so than the sleeper stretch, helped to improve movement of the shoulder.  I plan to use this article to help with treatment and rehabilitation efficiency.  My intentions are not to negate the use of the sleeper stretch but to use evidence-based practice and put another tool in my toolbox.

(Click the link below for access to the article)

A Randomized Controlled Comparison of Stretching Procedures for Posterior Shoulder Tightness

Purpose: To compare the sleeper stretch and cross-body stretch techniques to improve passive shoulder internal rotation range of motion in subjects with limited shoulder internal rotation range of motion due to posterior shoulder tightness.

Methods: This was a randomized controlled trial that studied subjects for 4 weeks.  The subject exclusion criteria consisted of a history of shoulder surgery, shoulder symptoms requiring medical care within the past year, or shoulder pain greater than 5 on a 10 scale.

Sleeper Stretch – 1 time a day, 5 repetitions, holding for 30 seconds each

sleeper stretch

Cross-Body Stretch – 1 time a day, 5 repetitions, holding for 30 seconds each

Cross body stretch

Results: The researchers found that there was a significant increase with shoulder internal range of motion when using the cross-body stretch (20 degrees) when compared to the control group.  There was no significant increase in shoulder internal range of motion when using the sleeper stretch (12.4 degrees) when compared to the control group.  There was no statistical difference the sleeper stretch and the cross-body stretch but the cross-body stretch showed an improvement with shoulder internal rotation of 7.6 degrees more than the sleeper stretch.

Limitations: The researchers described two main limitations.  They used asymptomatic subjects rather than individuals who were throwers or had shoulder pain.  They also recommend future research to assess the effects of the stretches on a long-term basis.

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