Addressing Shoulder Pain (Part 2)
Last time on the blog, we took a look at the structures of the shoulders and the most common reason why we experience shoulder pain: chronically rounded shoulders. This time, we’ll take a look at 10 yoga moves that can address rounded shoulders and eliminate the pain.
This move can be done standing up against a wall or laying on the floor (as shown). In the floor version, you lay on your stomach, reach your arm right arm straight out to the side. Use your left hand to help roll you onto your right side. Let your neck relax and your head rest on the floor or a block. After you’ve taken 10 breaths, roll back on to your abdomen.
(Left side pictured)
This pose is similar to the first one but stretches slightly different muscles. To do this pose, lie on your abdomen and take your right arm up so to a 45° angle. Try to keep your right armpit as close to the ground as you can and roll back over onto your right side.
Finish by completing both poses on the left side. Together, these two poses stretch most of the tight muscles on the front of the body that can pull the shoulder blades forward and down.
Like the wall clock poses, this variation of locust pose stretches many of the muscles of the front shoulder and chest that can round the shoulders. However, this pose also strengthens the muscles in the upper back and back of the arms that can counteract rounding. Begin by laying on your abdomen and interlace your fingers behind your back, pressing your palms and wrists together. On an inhale, slowly lift your head, neck and chest while also rolling your shoulders back as much as you can. Lift your hands off your body and reach them towards your heels. Take 7 breaths and then release. Repeat this pose, this time switching the grip so your other thumb is on top.
Bow pose is similar to locust pose, but it uses the strength of the legs to help stretch the front of the body and create more lift in the chest. Start by lying on your abdomen, bending your knees and reaching back for your feet or ankles. If this is too difficult, you can place a block between your feet and a strap around the front of your feet. Then reach back for the strap with your arms. Focus on lifting the upper back instead of the legs. You can press the feet/ankles/strap into the hands (think straightening the knees) to give a bigger lift to the upper body. Go slowly and try this 3 times taking 5-7 breaths each time.
This last variation of locust pose strengthens the lower trapezius, a muscle that, when toned, helps to keep the shoulder blades back and down (in neutral as opposed to hunched forward and up by the ears). Begin by lying on your abdomen. As you inhale, lift your right arm and left leg simultaneous. Be sure you are lifting the leg from the hip and not the knee. Take 5 breaths and then release. Switch sides. Repeat 3 times on each side.
The latissimus dorsi muscle rotates the arm inwards (medially). This action is typically coupled with a forward movement (protraction) of the shoulder blades. That’s why tight lats can contribute to rounded shoulders. To stretch the lats, begin in a comfortable version of child’s pose (seated on blocks, folded blankets in the back of the knees between the legs and thighs, etc.). Walk your hands to the right and bring your right hand under your shoulder for support. Walk the left fingers as far away from you as you can, lifting the wrist off the floor. Try to sit your left hip back towards your heels. You should feel a stretch under the left armpit. When you’ve completed 10 breaths, move through center and then repeat on the other side.
When the upper trapezus is tight, it keeps our shoulders raised up towards our ears and dimishes the space in the back of our neck. To stretch the right trapezius, reach the right shoulder as far down as you can. Then drop your chin towards your chest, roll your head to the left so your left ear is just in front of your left shoulder and then tilt your nose up towards the sky. Hold for 10 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
(If you look at the photo, my forehead should be tilted forward more)
Another muscle that can keep the shoulders excessively raised is the levator scapulae. To stretch this muscle on the right, keep your right shoulder down your back. Drop your chin towards your chest, roll your left ear to just in front of your left shoulder and continue to reach your forehead down. Hold for 10 breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Bridge pose strengthens the serratus anterior – the main muscle that pulls the shoulder blades forward (protraction) and strengthens the rhomboids – which help to keep the shoulder blades on the back in neutral (the rhomboids perform retraction, the opposite of protraction). To do bridge, lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, feet relatively parallel (there can be a slight turnout) and arms by your side. Press your feet into the ground to lift your hips, keeping your thighs as close together as you can. Interlace your fingers underneath you, pressing the palms together and reaching the knuckles towards your heels. Lift the chest as much as you can while squeezing the shoulder blades together. Hold for 7 breaths and then release. Repeat this pose, switching your grip so the opposite thumb is on top the second time.
This last pose strengthens the middle trapezius, which, like the rhomboids, is responsible for keeping the shoulder blades from creeping too far forward. This pose is really about the arms and can be done in any yoga pose where you are facing the ground (lying on your abdomen, in regular standing forward fold, warrior 3, etc.) but this variation offers a lot of stability in the lower body so you can focus on reaching your arms back as far as you can. To do this pose stand upright with your feet wider than hip width apart. Make sure the feet aren’t too wide so you have a lot of stability as you fold forward. Take your arms out to the sides like wings with your palms facing forward. As you exhale, hinge at your hips while keeping your spine long. This should feel like a back bend in your upper back because you are resisting the pull of gravity on your chest. Once you reach about halfway, inhale your arms as far back behind you as you can. Take 5 breaths and then come back up on an inhale. Repeat two more times.
Try these poses out and let me know what you think in the comments!