The shoulder is perhaps the body’s most complex joint, and it is one that is rarely used in the relatively sedentary modern lifestyle. As a result, most people develop weak, stiff and painful shoulders that prevent them from delving deeper into their yoga practice – or even performing typical movements in everyday life. If you are eager to feel your shoulders open up, here are a few reasons your shoulders might be cranky and a few methods to give you more mobility than ever before.
Causes of Shoulder Issues
Your shoulder is an exceedingly complex joint – among the most complex in your body. It is a combination ball-in-socket and gliding joint, held together by dozens of small, relatively delicate tendons and pulled by several large, bulky muscles in your chest and back. Too often, people dive shoulders-first into yoga practice without adequately building strength in this critical muscle group, causing debilitating injury or else frustration from limited ability and lack of progress.
Stiff, painful shoulders are most often the result one (or more) of the following conditions, caused by inactivity or improper activity:
Adhesive capsulitis. More commonly known as “frozen shoulder,” this condition most often appears in women aged 40 to 60 years as well as those with additional inflammation-causing conditions, like diabetes or thyroid trouble. If you struggle to lift your arm to shoulder-height or above without hunching or experiencing pain, you likely have a frozen shoulder. The good news is your shoulder should thaw on its own in about a year and a half, but if you want to advance in your practice sooner than that, you can endure physical therapy to loosen your shoulder in a matter of months.
Arthritis. Literally the inflammation of joint tissues, arthritis can cause pain anywhere you have a joint, including your shoulder. Treatments vary dependent on the type and location of your pain, so you should seek medical help if you believe your yoga is impacted by arthritis.
Subacromial bursitis. The bursa are fluid-filled sacs that sit between the moving elements of joints, preventing friction. Unfortunately, when joints move too repetitiously, the body sends extra fluid to the bursa, causing them to become inflamed. The most often type of bursitis in the shoulder results from constant overhead movement, like throwing a baseball or transitioning into and out of down-dog. Rest and ice are the best medicines for bursitis, but there are also prescription anti-inflammatory drugs you can take in serious cases.
Compressed nerve. Nerves can easily get trapped among bones, cartilage, muscles or tendons, especially in busy regions like the shoulder.
A pinched nerve in your shoulder could cause shooting pain, numbness, weakness or decreased mobility. Unfortunately, nerve problems in your neck or spine might also cause shoulder trouble, so you should seek professional help ASAP if you believe this to affect you.
Rotator cuff injury. Your rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that keep your arm bone’s ball in your shoulder’s socket. Sudden overuse can cause the tissues of your rotator cuff to strain and tear, resulting in excruciating pain and impaired movement. Depending on the severity of your injury, you might require surgery; otherwise, ice, rest and slow-and-steady therapy should help you recover.
Ways to Open Shoulders
Opening your shoulders is not a process that should be rushed. You should go slow and be mindful of how your joint feels throughout the process. You should never try to “push through” tightness; this risks injury setting back your yoga practice goals even further. Here are a few simple opening movements to integrate into your daily routine, so you can get back onto your mat and feel stronger in every pose:
- Shoulder raises: Slowly lift your shoulders up to your ears and lower them down. Repeat five times.
- Shoulder rolls: Move your shoulders in a circular motion, up, back and down. Repeat 10 times. Then, reverse the motion, going up, forward and down. Repeat 10 times.
- Ear to shoulder: Tilt your head toward your right shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Shoulder dislocation: Holding a broom stick or a resistance band, place your hands in a wide grip and move them in a circle above your head and behind your back. Repeat 10 times.
- Doorway stretch: In a doorway, hold onto the door jams with both hands behind you. Hold for 30 seconds.
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