Do you have chronic pain and stiffness in your shoulders? Wouldn’t you want to loosen it right up and relieve the pain?
If yes, you are not alone. Most of us have experienced neck or shoulder pain at one point or another.
Many of us have discomfort in the shoulders, pain or stiffness in the morning, and find it hard to figure out if we simply slept in the wrong position or used the wrong pillow. Others deal with shoulder issues on a daily basis, trying to find a way to cope with it.
The shoulders are a complex area of the body. Their anatomy is meant to provide our arms with great mobility. But what if they don’t?
Maybe you have had a shoulder injury. Maybe you are dealing with chronic pain in the shoulders. Maybe you have osteoarthritis. Either way, this article will show you how yoga can help support healthy shoulders.
Addressing “Shneck” Pain
Oftentimes we forget that our bodies are a compilation of complex, interconnected systems that are constantly working and communicating. Our circulatory system is responsible for pumping life-sustaining blood into different regions of the body, our respiratory system helps us process oxygen and distributes it to our bodies, and our nervous system sends and receives messages throughout the body via nerve pathways.
But pain doesn’t always equal pain, and sometimes it gets hard to decipher the way our body communicates it. Neck and shoulders, for example, share multiple neural pathways and hence are closely interrelated. The pain in your neck may therefore indicate challenges in your shoulder (and vice versa)! Think of it as “shneck” pain.
Anatomy and Function of the Shoulders
The shoulder joints are the most mobile joints in the body. Just like the hips, they are classified as ball-and-socket joints, which basically means that one bone has a rounded end that fits into a cup-like socket of another bone.
The “shoulder girdle” or “pectoral girdle” is made up of three bones: the shoulder blade itself (scapula), the collarbone (also called clavicle) and the upper arm (humerus).
What we call the shoulder is actually a collection of several joints and soft tissues that allows our arms to move with a wide range of motion. We can throw balls, swim freestyle, and scratch our backs. But its constitution may equally harbor tension and stress, and make the shoulders a hot-spot for injuries and pain.
When Your Shoulder Feels Trapped
Have you ever felt discomfort in your shoulder when reaching for something, perhaps a teacup in the cupboard or a light in the car? If yes, you experienced shoulder impingement. This condition is characterized by a group of tendons ‘catching’ on your shoulder blade.
This set of tendons is called the rotator cuff, a tough and rubbery cord that connects the muscles in your shoulder to the top of your arm. It runs through a narrow space at the top of the shoulder and can get trapped. The result? Your tendons rub back and forth over the bone, and can become painful and even inflamed over time.
When Our Shoulders Give Us Wings
The serratus anterior, often referred to as our “wings,” stabilizes the shoulder blade. This vital muscle connects our ribs with the scapula. If this muscle is strong and flexible, it allows us to move our arms in a variety of directions as well as helps improve our ability to breathe deeply.
For example, when holding your hands out in a “T” position and flapping them up and down like wings, a healthy serratus anterior muscle allows us to perform this move. But unhealthy habits like bad posture have a nasty way of weakening this muscle, and restricted mobility leaves the shoulders prone to injury. Our wings need strength and training to doing their job properly.
How Yoga Can Help Your Shoulders
We all work and stress and sit too much. Our modern lifestyle, despite providing us with comfort, clearly does not benefit healthy shoulders. Bad posture and lack of movement may be culprits of stiff or tight shoulders, and our shoulder girdle loses the ability to move in its full range of motion.
Yoga is a healing practice that helps your body unlearn misalignment and unhealthy habits. Practicing yoga regularly can help relieve pain and may possibly restore the full range of motion in your shoulders.
It is a fabulous way to keep your shoulders healthy and mobile and prevent tight shoulders. Give your shoulders the attention they deserve and take important steps toward reducing shoulder stiffness and tension!
When we stretch, we elongate fibers that are bundled together to form the muscle. The more often we stretch and elongate these fibers, the larger the range of motion becomes that is available to your muscles.
The yoga practice provides a holistic focus on the body that can help realign and treat tight, interconnected areas of the body.
Yoga Sequence for Healthy Shoulders
This yoga sequence you can do for healthy shoulders. Or if you have chronic shoulder pain, it helps decompress your shoulders.
Pose #1: Lie on your back, placing your feet flat on the mat with your knees hip-width apart. Keep your arms on both sides of your body with the palms facing upward. On your inhale, please drag one arm on the floor in a circular movement as far back as you comfortably can. On your exhale, drag the same arm back and release your arm by your side. Now alternate the arms. Repeat this series 10 times and flow with your breath as you move your arms.
Pose #2: Sideline Thoracic Rotational Stretch (if you do Pilates, you may recognize this as the Bow and Arrow). It is good for people with bad backs too!
With the next exhale, hug both knees into your chest and stay for a few breaths. On another exhale, release both knees and arms to your left. If you can’t keep both thighs together as you move, squeeze a pillow in-between them. Move your right arm on top of the left arm and bring the palms together. Send your gaze out for the right fingertips. Extend the right arm straight out as far as you can away from the left shoulder. Then drag the fingers overhead towards the right shoulder, helping you open your chest. Try to squeeze the thighs (or the pillow in-between them) together, allowing for a twist mainly in your mid/upper back. Twist your lower back as little as possible, and try to move the right hip away from the right armpit as you move your arm. Also move your neck as little as possible. If possible, allow the fingers of your right hand to touch the floor and slowly drag them up and overhead until your return to the right side. But if your shoulders are quite stiff you may have to lift the fingers off the ground to avoid additional discomfort. Please stay within the pain-free range and repeat this 5 times before you change sides. It may be helpful to visualize your hands coming together as being an arrow, and your arms creating a bow as you drag your fingers on the floor to complete the movement. Be sure to repeat this movement on the opposite side, and be mindful of the similarities and differences of each!
Want more? Then join me for a simple yoga exercise for shoulder pain relief and shoulder injury recovery.
The shoulders are a very complex area of the body. Their anatomy is meant to provide our arms with great mobility. But our lifestyles contribute to stiffness and pain in our shoulders.
Yoga has chiropractic benefits. It helps you counter the negative effects of prolonged periods of inactivity and poor posture and may help your shoulders feel better.
Lifestyle and inactivity can contribute to pain and stiffness in your shoulders. Using yoga therapy to stretch and strengthen your shoulders may help decrease your pain. This easy yoga sequence can help release shoulder pain and tightness.
If you are in pain, the best therapy for your shoulders is to decompress. Gentle stretches and breathing techniques may help you relax and decompress the shoulders.
Have you been having shoulder pains for years? Wouldn’t you want to do some stretches that really help?
I do personalized healthy yoga. Let me help you with a healthy yoga sequence customized to you! Click here for your online quiz. What do you have to lose except your pain?
Info about Me
I’m Chi. I’ve always been passionate about healing and empowerment.
I work as a catalyst for personal transformation. I help you explore the best version of yourself, and yoga is a fantastic tool to accomplish that goal. I am a certified yoga therapist and a classically trained jazz vocalist, and I hold a Ph.D. in Communications. I look forward to practicing with you!
Ryan, Willow. Getting To Know Your Serratus Anterior: Strengthen Your “Wings”. https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/getting-to-know-your-serratus-anterior-strengthen-your-wings. [Accessed January 2018]
Cleveland Clinic. Is Your Shoulder Pain Actually a Neck Problem? The way your body reports pain is unreliable. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/2015/06/is-your-shoulder-pain-actually-caused-by-a-neck-problem/. [Accessed January 2018]
WebMD. Pain Management: Neck and Shoulder Pain. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/neck-shoulder. [Accessed January 2018]
http://web.mit.edu/tkd/stretch/stretching_1.html. [Accessed January 2018]