Uneven shoulders can be observed in a couple of planes. One of the most common observations is when one shoulder looks higher than the other. This could indicate either a structural, muscular or neural imbalance.
Structurally, the patient may have a leg length discrepancy or a scoliosis that causes the shoulders to be raised on one side.
Muscularly, the shoulder blade or scapula has multiple muscles that stabilize it in position. Muscular imbalances can easily occur that cause certain muscles of the scapula to pull it in a certain direction. For example, in many single arm-dominated sports such as baseball or tennis, the dominate arm tends to over-develop the latissmus dorsi which is your ‘wing’ muscle. With more muscular development it actually pulls the shoulder blade down. In standing postures, most of these athletes will look like their shoulder is lower on the same side. This can create problem for the lowered shoulder, especially when the arm is required to repetitively raise over their head. With the shoulder lowered it takes greater work of the opposing muscles to raise the arm overhead. Over time, it can cause poor shoulder mechanics and lead to injury of the shoulder.
When someone has chronic nerve symptoms in their neck and arm due to a radiculopathy or pinched nerve in their neck, many times you may see that the shoulder on the same side looks elevated. This is due to the adaptation of the muscles to shorten or spasm to elevate the shoulder girdle and allows more room for the nerve to conduct. Patient’s with this pattern often feel tight in their neck and upper shoulder. When they try to stretching the muscles it makes their nerve symptoms worse. This happens because the muscle is not tight but in protective spasm keeping the nerve from being injured further. In this case it is important to treat the nerve first before trying to lower the shoulder girdle.
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