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Yoga for Shoulder Injuries: How to Safely Practice Poses

Updated: Mar 9, 2023

Explore yoga poses that reduce pressure on your shoulders, build strength and improve mobility while healing a rotator cuff injury.



Three years ago, I started integrating strength training into my weekly exercise routine. I enjoyed the challenge of adding more reps or a higher weight load and seeing my progress each month. I was able to deepen my mind-body connection as I linked each movement to my breath (sounds like yoga and meditation, right?). My stability, mobility and balance also improved, which helped my yoga practice. I could lunge deeper, kick higher and even close my eyes in tree pose.


As I grew more comfortable lifting weights, I realized I could still get a good workout at home with dumbbells and short videos…or so I thought. One day after swinging a pair of heavy dumbbells over my head without a mirror to check my form, I could feel aching in my left shoulder. I didn’t think much of it and proceeded with my normal workout routine. After a month, the pain started to get worse. I visited Dr. Allen at SDRI and he diagnosed me with supraspinatus tendinosis and subacromial bursitis (this means a tendon in my rotator cuff was being impinged and a sac of tissue was inflamed due to the impingement).


According to Rush University, almost everyone will experience some type of shoulder injury between the ages of 18 and 88. The shoulder is the most mobile and least stable joint in the body. The shoulder consists of the shoulder blade (scapula) and upper arm bone (humerus), along with ligaments, muscles and tendons. Common shoulder injuries include shoulder instability, rotator cuff tear, frozen shoulder, strains and arthritis. In my case, I have both shoulder instability and a minor rotator cuff tear. Many shoulder injuries can be healed by decreasing inflammation through rest, increasing circulation with heat, strengthening the muscles surrounding the area and improving range of motion.


I’ll be honest, rest is hard for me. I find myself constantly craving movement. I knew that resting while teaching and practicing yoga was going to be difficult. I could no longer reach my arm across my body, above my head or weight bear in poses like downward dog (adho mukha svanasana) and low plank (chaturanga). I began challenging myself to let go of my ego and find variations of poses that felt stable and comfortable for my shoulder, while still allowing myself to grow stronger. I created a video of the poses that take pressure off the shoulders and rebuild stability safely. Make sure you are cleared by a doctor or physical therapist before practicing yoga or exercising.



If you attend additional yoga classes while still recovering from a shoulder injury, here are my recommendations to allow your body to continue healing:


Take caution when lifting your arms up

  • If you have impingement in the shoulder, this could aggravate the area

  • Try lifting your arms while maintaining out to a 45 degree angle (instead of lifting them straight out in front and up)

  • Instead of lifting your arms up, you can place your hands at your heart in standing poses like chair pose (utkatasana), high lunge (ashta chandrasana), warrior 1 (virabhadrasana I), tree pose (vrksasana) and standing figure 4 (eka pada utkatasana)


Try keeping your shoulders packed in

  • In child’s pose (balasana), try stacking your hands on top of each other to make a pillow for your head instead of reaching your arms out front

  • In bridge pose (setu bandha sarvangasana), bend your elbows and touch them to your sides. Reach your fingers toward the ceiling making a cactus shape


Keep arms close by the body when hinging or folding forward

  • Examples include seated forward bend (paschimottanasana) and seated bound angle pose (baddha konasana)


Avoid poses that put pressure on your shoulders

  • Poses such as downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana), dolphin pose (catur svanasana), arm balances, wheel (chakrasana) or thread the needle (parsva balasana) could make an injury worse. If you try these poses and experience pain, do not continue to hold the pose


Injuries can feel frustrating and recovery for the shoulder often takes time. Try to use this as an opportunity to be curious and learn without judgment. Remember that you are not alone in this journey. I am here to support you. If you have any questions or want to practice with me individually, send me a message in the contact form on the home page and we can set up a private Zoom or in-person session.


With gratitude,

Shannon


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