Shoulder Pain? You Might Want To Hang Around For This

Horizontal LadderOne of my fondest memories is my time in Army officer training at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina. It was more than 30 years ago but the memories are still sharply etched in my emotional storybook.

I had spent my years to that point in a schizophrenic ping-pong match between my home in East Harlem and elite institutions like Collegiate School for Boys and Princeton University.

My virgin voyage to the South showed me what America was really supposed to look and feel like. I knew as soon as I saw my barracks that some real learning was going to take place over the next few months.

My fellow officer candidates were men and women my age from Puerto Rico, the Deep South, and the Appalachians. Black, white, and Latino. Our company commander was West Point-educated and our battalion commander was a 5’5” Vietnam veteran who had never made it past high school in West Virginia.

I was the guy from New York. Strike 1. I went to Princeton University. Strike 2. Being “mixed race” was only a foul ball that created more confusion and curiosity than resentment.

No one cared how smart I was. Did I think I was better than everyone else? Was I going to whine the first time I had to sit overnight in a water-filled foxhole? Would I qualify on the shooting range? How high would I score on the PT (Physical Training) test? Could I lead?

One of the first things we did was run the obstacle course. There were a series of obstacles that tested our endurance, power, strength, and (critically for me) our fear of heights. One obstacle that tripped most people up was the horizontal ladder. There were several obstacles that were scarier (and that didn’t have the nets and padding they have today) but the forty feet of horizontal ladder rungs were a tough test of grip, arm, and core strength and endurance.

The movement that’s required is called “brachiation.” You swing hand over hand between bars or branches. Apes, orangutans, gibbons, chimpanzees, and humans are the only animals able to do this. Our shoulders and hands accommodate this motion.

Brachiation is so important that it is prescribed for children with developmental delays. Past the age of 6, you won’t find too many people brachiating. Who stole the monkey bars?! The loss of this movement corresponds to an increased incidence of shoulder pain.

I’m exploring bar hanging as an antidote to my own shoulder pain. In theory, hanging from a bar or moving along a horizontal ladder (if you can find one) will change the structure of something called the coracoacromial arch. Changing the structure will alleviate shoulder impingement.

You might want to consider bar hanging if you have shoulder pain. Try to work up to a total of two minutes of hanging five days per week to start. Let me know how it works for you or contact me with any questions.

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