At the beginning of a yoga class, sometimes I’ll posit the question: Anyone have anything that they want to work on today? Invariably someone will say: SHOULDERS!
What I understand this to mean, in most people’s bodies, is that area between the shoulder blades that often gets mucked up and crunchy, as well as the junction between the upper back and the neck. These two areas, the upper thoracic area and the upper trapezius area, are two common places that most people I know hold some tension. It’s also a common pain area for folks coming in for massage therapy.
In my massage practice, my clients often ask if everyone has tension in this area, or if theirs happens to be particularly bad. In general, most everyone I’ve massaged has some level of tension here.
Let’s look at the anatomy of the shoulder:
The shoulder is made up of three bones:
- Clavicle (collarbone)
- Humerus (upper arm bone)
- Scapula (shoulder blade)
The shoulder blade, collarbone and arm are all part of the appendicular skeleton which rests on the axial skeleton. The clavicle provides a fairly stable strut, while the humerus maintains the widest variation of movement possibility. The scapula helps to keep the peace between the two structures by providing extra stability for the clavicle and support by way of the glenoid socket (where the upper arm bone and the scapula meet) in order to manage the shifting of the humerus. This whole structure helps to provide some stability in movement of the arm on the torso (the axial skeleton).
The shoulder is a complex ball and socket joint that moves in a variety of planes. The muscles of the shoulder and arm are amazingly diverse – they span across the width of the back attaching the scapula to the rib cage, neck, head and arms.
The primary movements of the shoulder joint and scapula are:
Shoulder (glenohumeral joint)
- Abduction (bringing your arm away from you)
- Adduction (brining your arm toward you
- Horizontal Abduction
- Horizontal Adduction
- External Rotation
- Internal Rotation
Scapula (shoulder blade)
- Retraction (shoulder blades towardone another)
- Protraction (shoulder blades away from one another)
- Upward rotation
- Downward rotation
There are 17 muscles that articulate with the shoulder blade
- Serratus Anterior
- Teres Major
- Teres Minor
- Triceps Brachii long head
- Biceps Brachii
- Rhomboid Major
- Rhomboid Minor
- Omohyoid inferior belly
- Lattisimus Dorsi
- Levator Scapula
- Pectoralis Minor
An imbalance in any of these structures can cause pain and decreased mobility in your shoulder and scapula mobility.
The shoulder blade wants to be in a balanced position, but when one muscle or group of muscles gets chronically shortened or lengthened, the placement of the shoulder blade on your body can be impacted.
In a yoga class, having integrated shoulders is an essential part of your practice. What do we mean by integrated shoulders?
- Shoulders that have strength, flexibility and MOBILITY that allow you to do the poses that you want when you want.
- Shoulders that are well balanced both muscularly and structurally.
- Shoulders that support you with integrity while putting weight on your hands.
- Shoulders that work well for you in your daily activities, such as reaching for things over your head, or supporting yourself while mopping the floor on your hands and knees (does anyone else do this?!).
Let's look at a few yoga poses that integrate the shoulders. You can see in the images below that poses such as backbends, arm balances and poses that have arms overhead can all incorporate some good honest shoulder awareness.
Interested in feeling better in your shoulders as well as learning more about the anatomy and function of the shoulders? Come to any class during September for some shoulder love.
See you on the mat soon!
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