Yoga for Shoulder Pain

Nadia Santiago
Woman doing yoga to relieve shoulder pain

Are you experiencing shoulder pain, but want to continue your yoga practice? Reduce the pressure and discomfort with yoga.

Warm Up

Warm up the muscles around the shoulder joint before you begin. Cold muscles are more likely to overstretch or tear. Warming up will increase flexibility and range of motion.

  • Sun Salutations - Sun salutations are a natural place to start. Modify any poses that put pressure on your shoulder joint.

Stretch

A great way to open up and heal your shoulders is to stretch them out.

Standing Side Bend

The standing side bend lengthens the lats, releases your delts, and strengthens the obliques.

  1. Stand with your right hand on your hip.
  2. Reach your left arm up alongside your ear toward the ceiling.
  3. Bend at the waist and reach your arm over your head.

Hold for four or five breaths, then switch to the other side.

Woman performing a standing side bend

Mountain Pose with Handclasp

Release pain and tension by opening up your pecs with a handclasp in mountain pose.

  1. Stand tall.
  2. Interlace your fingertips behind your back, knuckles in line with your tailbone.
  3. Draw your shoulder blades together on your back and lift your chest as you straighten your arms, reaching your knuckles toward the floor.

Hold for five to ten breaths. Don't worry if you can't straighten your arms completely. With practice, your muscles will open up.

Woman performing mountain pose with hand clasp

Cow Face Pose Arms

Cow face pose is a full body stretch for the hips and shoulders. To save time and energy, focus on the arms. It hits every angle of the shoulders.

1. Extend your left hand up toward the ceiling.

Woman extending left arm up

2. Bend your left elbow, placing your hand between your shoulder blades.

Woman bending left arm down at elbow

3. Wrap your right hand around your back and reach up, clasping the fingers of your left hand.

woman clasping hands behind back

Hold for five to ten breaths then switch to the right. If you can't bring your fingers together, feel free to drape a towel in your top hand and grab onto that.

Eagle's Arms

Eagle is another pose that works and stretches the entire body. Practice just the arms to target the rear delts and upper back.

  1. Extend your left arm out in front of you.
Woman extending left arm out front

2. Wrap your right arm underneath and around the left until your fingertips reach toward the ceiling.

Wrapping right arm underneath and around left

3. Wrap your left hand around the right and place the palms together.

Wrapping left hand around right, palms together

4. Lift your elbows as high as you can.

This is a very deep shoulder stretch. Make sure to ease into it.

Reclining Twist for Shoulders

Twists in yoga are mostly focused on stretching your hips and back. This one is specifically opens your chest and shoulders. Back and hips are a bonus.

1. Lay on your belly with your arms extended to the sides.

Woman on stomach with arms extended

2. Rotate your body to the right, bring your left leg behind your right, and reach your left arm back.

Bringing right leg and arm only to the left

Hold for five to 10 breaths, then switch to the other side. Avoid twisting so deeply that pain arises. Only go as far as feels comfortable.

Criss Cross

The criss cross stretches the upper back muscles, along with the outer and rear delts.

  1. Lay on your belly and fold your arms in front of your chest so that your palms face the floor.
  2. Slide your hands away from one another and relax your torso down until you feel a stretch in your shoulders and upper back.

Hold for five to 10 breaths, then switch the arm that's on top. For best results, relax your head down.

Woman on belly with extended arms crisscrossed

Strengthening Poses

In addition to tightness, shoulder pain is often the result of weak upper back and shoulder muscles. Strengthen them with these simple moves.

Sphinx

Sphinx engages the rhomboids, which are the muscles between your shoulder blades.

  1. Lay on your belly with your forearms supporting you on the mat.
  2. Isometrically draw your hands toward your body, hugging your shoulder blades together on your back.

This move is great for beginners because it takes very little effort, but is completely effective in helping you create engagement around the shoulder.

Image of woman in a sphinx pose

Cobra

Cobra pose is similar to sphinx, but slightly more challenging. Instead of having your forearms on the floor, you begin with your hands beside your ribcage and peel your chest up off the floor.

Woman performing yoga cobra pose

Modify Common Poses

There are only a few poses that will require modifications for sensitive shoulders.

Woman demonstrating child's downward dog pose
  • Low plank for high plank. Just keep your knees on the ground. This can also be done for side plank.
Rising into low plank from downward dog
Moving from low plank to puppy pose

Give Your Shoulder Time to Heal

Excessive practice may exacerbate your symptoms of pain, so make sure that you are gentle with your body. Stretch your shoulders daily after a proper warmup so they loosen up. Avoid postures that may put extra pressure on them until they have healed. Discuss persisting pain with your chiropractor or physician to make sure that you haven't torn a muscle or damaged the joint.

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Yoga for Shoulder Pain