How to Modify 4 Common Yoga Poses for Shoulder Injuries
We’ve all been there. You’ve been so into your practice that you accidently pushed yourself too far. Or, you are at the gym and overdo it with a shoulder workout.
No matter the cause, you now have to nurse a shoulder injury.
By now, you feel the benefits of your practice not only in your body but also in your mind. So how can you let your body heal without putting your practice on the backburner?
A Brief Glance at the Shoulders
Since the shoulders are ball-and-socket joints, they are one of the most mobile joints in our bodies. This ball-and-socket structure allows many different types of movement but also means the joint is at higher risk for injury.
For shoulder injuries there are two main concerns:
- Loss of mobility due to joint and connective tissue injuries like tendonitis
- Loss of strength due to injury to the surrounding muscles
First, you have to take note on where your sore shoulder stands on those fronts. Usually, the shoulder feels discomfort if the arm is raised above the head and if it bears weight.
This affects Downward Facing Dog (and variations thereof) as well as standing postures in which your arms are lifted, such as Warrior II and Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute). More obviously, arm balances will likely be too risky with shoulder injuries. But, don’t feel discouraged! Yoga has the power to heal.
So, learning some easy ways to modify postures that come up frequently in class means that you can stay with your practice on the mat and take care of your injury.
Here’s How to Modify 4 Common Yoga Poses for Shoulder Pain and Shoulder Injuries:
Here are some common postures you can modify on your own in any class so you can still find your zen on the mat!
Recommended Props: Although not necessary, we recommend the following props to support your modified practice:
1. Cobra Pose Modification: Baby Cobra
- From lying prone on your belly, inhale to lift your chest and shoulders off of the mat
- Keep length through your whole spine
- Option to hover your hands an inch or so above the mat
Why this helps: This gentler variation keeps the weight out of your arms and focuses more on creating strength in the spine than mobilizing the shoulders.
2. Warrior II Modification: Hands to Hips
- Find Warrior II legs by establishing a long stance with your front toes facing the top of your mat and your back toes roughly facing toward the side
- To modify, place both hands on your hips instead of reaching in opposite directions
- Still focus the energy of your arms and elbows in opposite directions
Why this helps: By modifying your raised arms to a more neutral position, the joint can have relief and time to rest and heal without causing further irritation.
3. Upward Salute and Chair Pose Modifications: Samastitihi
- For Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute), Utkatasana (Chair Pose), and all other standing postures in which the arms reach over head, bring both hands to heart center
- Press evenly from your wrists to your fingertips to strengthen your wrists and shoulders
- Lengthen through the crown of your head
- Soften your shoulders away from your ears
Why this helps: In addition to the neutral position as mentioned above, Samastitihi may also be beneficial for carpal tunnel syndrome. It stretches the flexor muscles in the wrists and forearms. It’s also easy to adjust the intensity in this position for each individual practitioner.
4. Crow Pose Modification: Supta Bakasana
For Crow Pose and other weight-bearing postures, an easy way to modify is to flip them upside down! For example, Crow Pose can become Supta Bakasana, which is done lying on your back.
- Start by laying down with your knees hugging in toward your chest
- Engage your core and lift your head, neck, and shoulders off of the mat
- Reach up as if you could plant your hands on the ceiling
- From there, keep your big toes together and draw your knees open and toward your triceps
- Engage your lower belly to create equal pressure from the tops of your knees to your triceps and press your triceps into your knees
Why this helps: This pose is especially helpful to do on your back because it teaches exactly which muscles to engage and what position the body should be in to perform the full posture but it eliminates the pressure of gravity and your body weight on your arms.
Learn how to practice Supta Bakasana in this Arm Balance Tutorial: Learn Crow Pose and Hurdler’s Pose (Free Class)
Bonus: Shoulder Strengthener
For a bonus exercise, practice strengthening your shoulders gently with a block and a strap.
- Hold a block arms-length distance from your body, holding the prop longways (You can also choose to do this exercise with your elbows at your side)
- Focusing your pressure equally throughout your hand and palm, press gently into the block for 10 to 30 seconds
- Repeat three times
- Loop a strap and adjust it to shoulder-width distance
- Then place the strap above your elbows
- With your arms either reaching straight out ahead (as shown) or with your elbows at your sides, turn your palms to face each other and press your arms equally in opposite directions
- Hold for 10 to 30 seconds
- Repeat three times
Note: You should feel your muscles working here, but if there is any pain stop and see a doctor or physical therapist.
Why this helps: Shoulder injuries can create a loss of stability and strength. This creates more of an opportunity for malalignment which can cause impingement or inflammation. By using these two strengthening exercises, you can strengthen the rotator cuff.
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that surround the ball-and-socket joint to create stability within the glenohumeral joint (one of the three joints that make up the very mobile shoulder complex).
Modify Your Practice for Shoulder Pain and Shoulder Injuries!
Have you ever had to modify your practice for an injury?
Taking care of your body doesn’t always mean putting your asana practice on hold. Use these suggestions to modify your class or home practice if you have shoulder pain or any shoulder injuries.
Let us know how it goes in the comments below!
All included information is not intended to treat or diagnose. The views expressed are those of the author and should be attributed solely to the author. For medical questions, please consult your healthcare provider.