Fitness Tips

‘I’m a Physical Therapist, and These Are the 3 Tests I Use To Determine if You Have Rounded Shoulders’

Dominique Michelle Astorino

Photo: Getty Images/ jacoblund
Poor posture can lead to wild, seemingly disparate health consequences, including incontinence (yes, seriously), constipation, and more—and nearly all Americans struggle with posture at some point, particularly due to sedentary habits, desk jobs, and reliance on technology for work and leisure (hello, tech neck!). Bob Schrupp, PT, founder and owner of Therapy Network, Inc. says tech neck is something that impacts the majority of teens and adults today. The result? Rounded shoulders. Fortunately, there are rounded shoulders tests you can do you see if your posture needs some TLC, according to Schrupp.

“Over time rounded shoulders and forward head posture can contribute to shoulder, neck, upper back pain, and even headaches,” says Schrupp. “We see this time and time again in our patients—improve the posture and the pain goes away.”

And it’s not just muscular pain you might be dealing with—Schrupp says your breathing may be impacted as well. “Rounded shoulders may affect respiration with the lungs,” he says. Adding that if you have poor posture, your chest isn't able to expand as well as it would with proper posture and aligned shoulders.

The good news? Poor posture is fixable! “People are often amazed when the simple act of improving their posture eliminates their pain, whether that’s neck, upper back, or shoulder pain,” he says. This starts with something called the shoulder test (which we’ll get to) and continues with therapeutic postural remedies focusing on the musculature involved in rounded shoulders. Schrupp says this includes: “the pectoralis major and minor, deep cervical extensors, upper and middle trapezius, levator scapula, and rhomboids.”

The rounded shoulders tests

So, how do you check if you have rounded shoulders? There are three easy shoulder tests you can reference, according to Schrupp.

Test 1: thumbs

This is one of the simplest tests, and the one Schrupp and his physical therapy partner Brad Heineck use in their YouTube video above.

  1. “To tell if your shoulders are rounded forward, stand in a regular posture and let your arms hang by your side,” says Schrupp. “Take note of your palms or thumbs. If your thumbs are pointed in toward your body and your palms are facing backwards, it is likely you have rounded shoulders. The thumbs should be pointed forward with the palms facing to the body.” See? Simple!

Test 2: wall contact

Here’s another test Schrupp shared, just in case you need extra proof.

  1. “Stand with your back against [a] wall,” he says. “Your seat, mid-back, and back of [your] head should be able to maintain contact with the wall simultaneously.” How are you stacking up?

“If it is difficult for one or both of your shoulder blades to make complete contact with the wall, you may have forward shoulders,” says Schrupp. “While doing this test, your head and eyes should remain level. If you feel the need to tip your eyes up to reach the wall, you may have a forward head [i.e. tech neck], which often accompanies forward shoulders.”

Test 3: tight pecs

The final test checks specifically to see if your pecs are tight and if this could be the cause of your postural imbalance. For this one, you may want a yoga mat or towel.

  1. “Lay on your back on the floor and place both arms overhead in the "Y" position,” says Schrupp. “Both arms should have complete contact with the floor throughout the entire arm. If not, you may have tight fibers of the lower pectoralis major.”
  2. Then “place your arms in a cross "T" position to check for tightness of the pectoralis minor. Again both arms should have complete contact with the floor throughout the entire arm.”

How to fix rounded shoulders

So what now? You’ve done the tests and determined that you do, in fact, have rounded shoulders (join the club!). Schrupp’s remedies for rounded, forward shoulders comprise another three-pronged approach: stretching tight muscles, strengthening weak muscles, and postural awareness. Pro tip: You can see all of these demonstrated in the video above for extra clarification).

1. Start stretching

First up, stretching! This is especially important if you’ve determined one or more of your pec muscles are tight. “An easy stretch to perform is to lie on a 36-inch foam roller with the roller aligned along your spine and with your head and pelvis supported,” says Schrupp. “Raise your arms to the side and overhead for a prolonged stretch of one to two minutes. You can do this two to four times per day.”

2.Strengthen your muscles

Next on deck, strengthening weaker muscles to create stronger posture. For this one, you’ll need a resistance band. “Grab each end of a resistance band or tubing with your palms facing forward,” advises Schrupp. “Pull the band apart and hold the center of the band to your chest while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for a count of five, and repeat 10 times. You can do this two to four times per day.”

Awareness

The last one is the simplest, but probably the hardest—paying attention to your posture. “Make a mental check of your head and shoulder posture throughout the day,” says Schrupp. “Tuck your chin in to reverse forward head posture, bring your shoulders back, and squeeze your shoulder blades together. [Do this] every 30 minutes or so as you sit at a desk or watch TV—make it a habit!”

Want more posture-improving tips? Try this Pilates for better posture workout: 

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