As your most flexible joints, your shoulders are susceptible to injury and can be slow to heal. Some common shoulder injuries include bursitis or tendinitis, torn rotator cuff, dislocation, fracture and arthritis. To help the healing process, yoga can increase your range of motion and rebuild strength. The key is to take it slow.
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Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint consisting of the clavicle, or collarbone; scapula, or shoulder blade; and upper arm bone, or humerus. Your rotator cuff is the muscle group that connects the top of your humerus to the socket of the scapula to form the shoulder joint, or glenohumeral joint.
To remember the names of the four rotator cuff muscles, use the mnemonic SITS: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These four muscles, which enable your arms to move, are the muscles that often get injured.
Optimal shoulder alignment helps repair and avoid injury. Sitting comfortably, inhale deeply. Draw your navel in and lengthen the sides of your body, from your pelvis to your armpits. Stretch your arms out in front of you, palms facing each other. Relax your shoulders, and pull the heads of your arm bones into your shoulder sockets. Lower your arms. Slide your upper palate slightly back so your throat is open.
To minimize weight-bearing, practice restorative poses at the wall. For a modified downward-facing dog, place your palms flat on the wall directly in front of your shoulders and walk your feet back directly under your hips so your arms are straight and your body is in an upside-down "L" shape. Engage your arm bones in your shoulder sockets and tone your abdominal muscles as you lengthen your spine. Hold for a few breaths.
Next, stand close to the wall, facing it, and reach one arm straight out to the side. Place your fingertips on the wall, then slowly turn your feet and entire body to the opposite side so your feet are parallel to the wall. Repeat on other side.
To strengthen your rotator cuff muscles, practice downward-facing dog and its more challenging version, dolphin pose. In dolphin pose, you place your forearms -- instead of your hands -- parallel on the floor. Another way to practice downward-facing dog is with your elbows slightly bent toward the floor, engaging your upper arms.
To stretch your shoulder muscles, try cow pose, in which you sit with legs crossed, one knee stacked directly on top of the other, and your feet alongside the opposite hips. Raise one arm overhead and place the other behind your back. Bend both elbows, and try to touch your hands at your spine. Use a strap if your hands don't reach. Practice on both sides.
If you have a shoulder injury, consult your health practitioner before practicing yoga or any other kind of exercise. Look for a yoga teacher who specializes in therapeutic yoga; he or she can help you modify poses.