Sore shoulders, elbow pain and wrist pain are common complaints that I hear all the time. This is problematic when it prevents you from doing the things you need to do and the activities you enjoy.
When I work with clients one-on-one or teach group classes there are a number of common movement patterns that I see with the shoulder girdle. Some include,
- Shoulder blades not moving with the arms (stuck on the back)
- Arms overworking or overleveraging for work of the legs, pelvis and torso
- Overusing the upper traps and neck
- Overusing low back muscles instead of the arms/shoulders
If function is limited in one area of the body, another area will pick up the slack. This usually isn’t a problem, until we experience pain, injury or get stuck in our performance.
When you establish good movement patterns you are improving both stability, mobility and strength at the same time. As stability and mobility increase, you can add more load which will in turn increase strength. If you are avoiding load (eg. lifting) or overloading (lifting something that’s too heavy) it can be problematic. Both could lead to pain or injury. This is one of the reasons why, when working with pain or an injury it is wise to work with a qualified, properly trained yoga therapist rather than going to a random yoga class.
Take a moment and think about all the activities you need to use your arms for. Reaching up to cupboards. Washing your hair. Pulling on your shoes. Getting dressed. Reaching across and behind you to put on your seat belt. Hugging. Pushing a stroller or lawnmower, swinging a golf club, digging a hole… Do your arms move in isolation of the rest of your body? No of course not. Your torso may bend forward, to the side or rotate. Your legs may be stationary side-by-side, you may crouch where one knee is bent, one is forward and one back, you might be seated or be in motion. There can be any number of combinations between your arms, torso and legs. So it makes sense then, in order to improve the functionality of your shoulders and arms, you also have look at what’s happening elsewhere in your body. When you can learn to move with increased control and coordination through any range of movement, you then have a greater capacity to move through life with more ease and effortlessness.
As a yoga therapist, I start by teaching you how to isolate a movement, so you can develop the neuromuscular patterning to do a movement the way your body is intended to move. (See videos below). Then we have to link that movement of the arm to move in coordination with the torso and the pelvis and the legs. This requires developing body awareness and mindfulness as a part of the practice. The better connected the body parts are in moving with each other, the less likely you are to experience the tightness and pain that limit your ability. It really is less complicated than you think and it’s kinda fun to get to know your body in a whole new way.
Imagine being able to hit your ball further, garden without your back hurting after, run faster, absorb the intensity of your kids jumping on you or being able to lift heavier weights, or just have more energy to get through the daily tasks. These are all pretty big deals and it isn’t that hard to achieve.
“Pain is not where the problem is.”
If you’re still with me, consider how patterns of tightness show up in your body. For example, I have a tendency to hold a lot tension and tightness in my neck and shoulders. I could go after the neck and shoulders with massage and stretching to loosen things up – – but why did the shoulders and neck become tight and tense to begin with? Inevitably, the tension just returns a short while after.
One of the things I have discovered for myself is when I work on my legs and hips and bring awareness, sensation, feeling and strength into my legs, my neck and shoulders start to feel lighter and more relaxed. The crazy thing is, I was focusing on my lower and not my upper at all. So, then the question becomes, are my neck and shoulders tight because something is not functioning as it should at my legs/pelvis? This is where it gets really curious and the complexities of our bodies get revealed. So perhaps my neck and shoulder thing is not actually a neck and shoulder thing. Maybe it’s a hip pelvis thing.
So next week, I will focus on the hips and pelvis. And in the meantime explore for yourself and see what you notice!