WHAT IS IT?
UT compensation, or Upper Trap compensation, is the overuse of the upper fibers of the trapezius muscle due to injury or weakness.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
The most prominent injury leading to UT compensation is a rotator cuff tear - most often, the supraspinatus muscle. The supraspinatus is primarily responsible for abduction of the shoulder, and stabilization of the humeral head (top of the arm bone) in the glenoid fossa (socket). Abduction of the shoulder joint is the arm moving out to the side, and away from the body - as if you are doing a jumping jack. Once the arm reaches shoulder height, the deltoid muscle takes over and continues abduction by raising the outstretched arm the rest of the way to get entirely overhead.
When an injury occurs in the supraspinatus, the deltoid immediately becomes responsible for abduction - however, it still is unable to raise the arm in abduction before it reaches shoulder height entirely on it's own - so the UT raises the entire shoulder, not just the arm, to help the arm reach higher without the supraspinatus muscle.
The other common reason for UT compensation is scapular weakness and instability. The scapula is the bone that creates your shoulder blade, as well as the socket portion of the ball-and-socket shoulder joint. Multiple muscles attach to the scapula from all different aspects that work together help to control the strength and mobility of the shoulder.
When there is weakness present in the elevators (function to lift up) and retractors (function to pull back, like you're puffing out your chest) of the scapula, the UT activates to help the scapula maintain it's range of motion, so as to allow the shoulder joint to maintain it's normal range of motion.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
It is not uncommon for UT compensation to go unnoticed for weeks, to months, to even years. Some individuals with plenty of strength elsewhere may get away with it for longer, some individuals with less functional strength may notice it immediately. Common symptoms are elevated shoulders, stiff/tight muscles in the neck/upper back, and residual pain in the shoulder.
IS IT CURABLE?
The longer you wait to talk to your doctor, the longer it will take to reverse the symptoms and retrain your body to activate your muscles properly. With effort and hard work, prognosis is usually fair to excellent. Talk to your physical therapist about performing a screening or evaluation to identify if UT compensations are occurring due to a larger issue in your upper extremities.
Ask us at CHAMPION today!