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Yoga Exercises for Impingement Shoulder & Rotator Cuff

author image Lorraine Shea
Lorraine Shea writes about yoga, fitness, nutrition, healing, philosophy, art, decorating and travel for magazines and websites including Fit Yoga, Pilates Style and Country Accents. She teaches Anusara-style yoga and specializes in breath technique, active relaxation and therapeutics. She has a B.A. in English from New York University.
Yoga Exercises for Impingement Shoulder & Rotator Cuff
Yoga Exercises for Impingement Shoulder & Rotator Cuff

Shoulder impingement happens when lifting your arm overhead causes your shoulder blades to rub against the muscles of your rotary cuff. These four muscles — the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis — control the ability to rotate your arms and lift them overhead. In fact, shoulder impingement is generally caused by repetitive use of your arms overhead in activities such as swimming, tennis, pitching, painting, carpentry and even yoga.

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To increase your range of motion and rebuild your strength, try some modified yoga poses.


If you are experiencing severe shoulder pain, check with your health practitioner before doing any exercises.


By increasing your mindfulness of how you use your muscles, yoga alignment principles can help ease shoulder pain. Lift your arms straight out in front of you and turn your palms toward each other. Pull your belly in and lengthen the sides of your body. Externally rotate your upper arms and notice how your shoulders relax down your back. Gently release your arms to your sides. Maintain this alignment for your yoga poses and all other activities.

Half Downward-facing Dog

To strengthen your rotator cuff muscles, do half downward-facing dog, a modified pose at the wall. Place your palms flat on the wall at shoulder height, and walk your feet back directly under your hips as you bend forward with your head between your arms and your spine parallel to the floor. Keeping both hands firmly pressed into the wall, turn your arms inward and bend your elbows slightly. Then turn your upper arms outward so the heads of your arm bones engage in your shoulder sockets.


Cat/cow gently helps you acclimate to weight-bearing. On your hands and knees, make sure your hands are directly below your shoulders and tuck your toes under. Exhale as you curve your back upward and look back to your legs for cat pose, and inhale as you lift your head and seat and look forward for cow pose.

Downward-facing Dog

Because you extend your arms overhead during downward-facing dog, practice this pose cautiously as your healing progresses. Start with just the arms stretched out while you remain on our knees and gradually work your way into the pose as your shoulder improves. From hands and knees, exhale and slowly straighten your knees as you lift your seat upward so you’re in an upside-down "V" shape. Yoga teacher B.J. Sadtler of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, suggests keeping your elbows slightly bent to maintain external rotation.

Plank Pose

To avoid further injury, strengthen your core and upper body muscles with plank pose. From downward-facing dog, inhale as you bring your shoulders forward directly over your hands. Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged and your upper arms externally rotated, hold for a few breaths. Exhale back to downward-facing dog. Repeat four times.

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