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Are Dead Hangs Good for Shoulder Impingement & Rotator Cuff Injuries?

Dec 18, 2022

Is relaxed/brachial hanging good for shoulder impingement and rotator cuff injuries? Many years before, I didn't know what relaxed or brachial hanging were. But, I learned it’s just a dead hang or hanging off of a bar. In this blog, we are going to talk about dead hangs and what benefits come from doing them. Let’s dive into it. 

Fact or Myth: Hanging Strengthens Your Supraspinatus Tendon

Your supraspinatus (one of your rotator cuff muscles) helps you lift your shoulder up. Lifting your shoulder up is what we call flexion. But if you're just hanging off of it, there's no resistance to this flexion motion. That’s why I don't believe that hanging strengthens your supraspinatus tendon. It’s a myth that hanging strengthens your supraspinatus tendon. 

However, that doesn’t mean that doing dead hangs isn’t useful. I believe that you’re actually stretching your supraspinatus tendon when you perform a dead hang. Hanging from your shoulders elongates the supraspinatus tendon so it stretches.

Moreover, the supraspinatus tendon is located in the crevice of your shoulder at a bony bump called the acromion. It helps your arm to move throughout its full range of motion and helps with power and strength. 

Fun fact: Your shoulder blade has 17 muscles connected to it. Therefore, to have a healthy shoulder, you need all 17 muscles of your shoulder to be in the proper length-tension relationship. You need to be able to make sure that all the muscles and tendons attached to your shoulder blade move freely for complete shoulder health.

How Can We Do It? 

If you hang off of a bar, gravity elongates your body which helps decompress your spine. However, there's a way to do it correctly and a way to do it incorrectly. 

The most common problem for climbers is that they tend to extend their backs. Dead hangs would be good if you are using it to turn off your latissimus dorsi (aka your lats). You have a big muscle in your back called your lats that we use when we’re pulling when we climb. 

If you are pulling all of the time, then you can get stuck in an extended state. You can see your back arching backward (lumbar lordosis) and your shoulders roll forward. The important thing you have to remember is that you have to make sure that you're not overextending your back when you're hanging.

My Recommendations

If you're dead hanging with extra weight, the added weight will pull down your hips, and you're likely going to arch your back. I would not recommend climbers do this. What I do recommend you do is this exercise without any added weight. When you hang off of the bar, your arm is supposed to have 180 degrees of motion (meaning a straight line from your torso all the way up). When hanging in this position, it allows you to put air into your chest and into your back. That's called posterior mediastinum expansion which often gets lost with climbing.

Complete rest doesn't really do anything to heal injuries. A saying I’ve learned and lived by is “motion is lotion.” So when you're ready, you should start introducing motion or loading the muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, or whatever is injured in a safe and controlled manner so that you can still stay strong without losing out on climbing completely. 

If you are looking for a climbing physical therapist in your area, you can find tons of them across the country today. If you ever need help finding one, just reach out to me, and I'll try to ask around and make sure that you get the care that you need. 

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