In some sports, grip strength is essential. I used to work with Elite Judo players and one of the most common complaints they would see me with, was a lack of grip strength. Now these players weren't in any pain, so they weren't seeing their club physio, but as I was matside they would mention it to me.
I would test their grip strength and indeed it was lacking. This is really important in Judo, you need to be able to grip. So I would ask them to grip my wrists and then give it everything they had, what would happen?
They would try to grip but when encouraged to give it more power, they would start to round their shoulders. They couldn't get anymore from their wrist, so they were trying to create more power by bringing in other areas. As a result, when a Judo player would mention the lack of grip strength, I would be looking immediately at their shoulders. And most of the time they were protracted.
Let's follow this through logically, their wrist flexors are no longer giving them the power they need, so they compensate by bringing the shoulders, specifically the biceps and pectoralis muscles into play. Overuse of these muscles leads to a protracted shoulder as the muscles shorten through overwork. Protracted shoulders are far from ideal in Judo, by the nature of their sport they are thrown a lot. Landing on a protracted shoulder leads to nasty shoulder injuries, indeed one of the most common injuries in Judo is a shoulder injury.
So what would I do. Well, the grip strength is a relatively easy fix, loosen through the forearms and the grip strength immediately returns. However, that wasn't my job done, I needed to also resolve the protracted shoulders, so I would loosen the biceps and pectoralis muscles and suggest that they add more rhomboid, tricep and mid trapezius strengthening into their training program to ensure they didn't continue with protracted shoulders long term.
If you work with elite athletes, ideally you need to have a good relationship with their strength and conditioning coach as together you can keep tweaking their strength program to allow for changes in their biomechanics to ensure they remain injury free.
Take note of the niggles they are telling you about. They may not be in pain at the moment, but if they can't do their sport to the best of their ability, because one part isn't working properly, you can be fairly certain compensatory movement patterns are starting to set in, and then it is only a matter of time before they become injured. This is as relevant to recreational athletes as to elite ones. Never dismiss what the athlete is telling you, take a proper look at their biomechanics and find out why they are struggling.
This doesn't just apply to Judo, Climbers need good grip strength. Outside of sport, Hairdressers, Barbers, Podiatrists and Musicians are all likely to overuse their forearm muscles through lots of repetitive finger movements. For all these people, don't just look at the area they are complaining about, take a more global view and see what other effects it is having in the body.
Fancy using this for CPD?
Have a think of which sports are likely to use their hands a lot, take a think about the compensatory muscles that may come into play if these muscles get tired. Become very familiar with these muscles, what can you do to rectify not just the tight muscles, but the rest of bio-mechanical changes around the body? Then write it all up in your CPD log, click here for our FREE Reinge Education CPD log and sign up to our website.
If you fancy learning more, we run a one day workshop all about shoulder biomechanics, take a look at it here.