Wall Walks: how, why, and when to do them.
What are they?
To perform wall walks, loop a resistance band around your wrists. Start by facing a wall with your forearms up in front of you. Position your forearms vertically, so your wrists are stacked on top of your elbows. Keeping your wrists pulled out against the band, walk your arms up and down the wall. Focus on maintaining your shoulders down and back throughout.
Why Do them?
Wall walks are all about priming the muscles that stabilise your shoulder joint through movement. Anatomically speaking, the shoulder joint is an inherently unstable one. From a biomechanics perspective, there’s always a trade off between stability and mobility, and the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. Like the hip, the shoulder joint is a ball and socket. The head of the humerus (your arm bone) is the ball, and a part of the scapula (your shoulder blade) forms the socket. Unlike the hip joint, however, the ball doesn’t fit snugly within the socket at the shoulder. In fact, in terms of bony articulation, it’d be more accurate to picture the shoulder joint as a golf ball sitting on a tee. From a functional perspective, this makes sense. If the socket were to be any deeper, it’d be impossible to move your arm through the large ranges of motion and varied planes of movement you do every day. The implication of this limited congruency, however, is a lack of passive stability. This refers to the stability at joints offered by bony articulation, cartilage, and ligaments. As a result of this, optimal shoulder function depends predominantly on active stability, which is stability provided by surrounding musculature. Cue: the rotator cuff.
What muscles do they work?
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that originate from the scapula and insert into the humerus, effectively surrounding the shoulder joint (hence the term ‘cuff’). When they contract, they produce a medial (inward) force that keeps the head of the humerus (the ball) centred within the relatively shallow glenoid fossa (the socket). Wall walks target the rotator cuff, recruiting these muscles to develop active stability as the arms move up and down through range.
When can they be applied in a rehabilitation setting?
Following a shoulder operation, the rotator cuff muscles are commonly inhibited. As a result, there isn’t the same stabilising force being applied to the shoulder joint. This leads to suboptimal biomechanics, which can manifest in the form of shoulder: pain, weakness, instability, and/or immobility. Similarly, in instances of shoulder dislocation or subluxation, the rotator cuff is generally not functioning optimally. It becomes a bit of a chicken and the egg scenario: did these injuries occur because the cuff was inhibited, or is the cuff inhibited because these injuries occurred? Regardless, from the perspective of shoulder rehabilitation and injury recurrence prevention, cuff activation and scapular stabilisation exercises such as wall walks are key! In the acute stages of shoulder rehab, this movement can be used as a standalone exercise, and is commonly prescribed as part of a daily home exercise program to get the cuff firing. Later into the piece, wall walks may be used as a warm up to prime these muscles in preparation for bigger compound lifts or upper body exercises.
What’s my number one tip for performing the exercise?
Maintain constant tension on the band by keeping your wrists out (your forearms should be vertical), and pull your shoulders down and back throughout. This will help to engage your rotator cuff, and limit compensation from larger agonist (mover) muscles.
Georgia Smith – BeFit Training Physio Double Bay
Georgia Smith is an experienced musculoskeletal physiotherapist based in Double Bay, in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. Georgia has successfully treated musculoskeletal and sports injuries on the basis of a thorough assessment and diagnosis coupled with evidence-based rehabilitation programs tailored to the needs and goals of each individual. Georgia specialises in paediatric and womens health rehab based physiotherapy. To book a consultation, click the link below.