This article first appeared in Australian Yoga LIFE Magazine issue 38 in March 2013, and is reproduced here by kind permission of AYL.
The shoulder is an amazing joint. Having developed to allow our ancestors to swing through the trees, a fully functional shoulder joint allows 360 degrees of rotational movement as well as being able to support the weight of the entire body. However, this combination of the largest possible ROM (range of movement) of any joint plus adequate strength is a delicate one, and shoulders can get into trouble when the balance is upset.
In the current ‘computer age’, many people have jobs which require sitting for long periods at a desk. This hunched forward position tends to lead to rounded shoulders and upper back, and a closed chest. Over time the muscles of the chest, shoulders and back become tightened and this position becomes the default. As is the case with every joint in the body, the bio-mechanics of the shoulder joint do not exist in isolation. The full ROM of the shoulder joint is dependent not only on flexibility of the shoulder muscles themselves, but also on having a mobile thoracic spine and an open chest. Therefore a rounded shouldered/closed chest posture is often the cause of compromised action of the shoulder joints. Soreness and tightness the shoulders and up into the neck is one result, with another being a predisposition to common shoulder injuries unless care is
The good news is that yoga practice has the ability to both reverse that rounded shouldered and closed chest posture, as well as increase the flexibility of the shoulder muscles directly. Together these two approaches can facilitate full range of movement of the shoulder joint over time.
Shoulder mobility also relates to shoulder strength, and weight bearing. To safely ask the shoulders to perform strong weight bearing techniques, we need to have FIRST attained a pre-requisite level of all round shoulder mobility. (This depends not only on the flexibility of the shoulder joint itself, remember, but also on the overall posture?an open chest and mobile thoracic spine being the ideal.)
If the shoulders are rounded and tight, they are not in a good position bio-mechanically to then do a lot of weight bearing, and strain in certain muscles and tendons can often be the result.
In this, and the following article on the shoulder, we shall look at the bio-mechanics of the shoulder and what we can do to improve the functionality of the joint through yoga. In this first part we shall focus on improving shoulder mobility, by working on reversing a rounded shouldered posture, and improving flexibility of the muscles themselves. In the next article, we shall focus on strength and stability-and the difference between the two.
First let us look at the peculiarities of the shoulder joint that make it prone to strain, and some common injuries that do occur.