When we consider the benefit of any exercise regimen, the phrase “no pain, no gain” may be a good guide to knowing when you’re stretching your physical capacity in a good way. After doing the same routine for while, you’ll probably stop feeling that same burn, and you’ll know you need to turn it up a notch: increase the weight you’re moving, try going faster, change it up somehow. At the same time, there’s a difference between that healthy burn and the kind of pain your body uses to tell you to stop. I remember telling my parents that a body part hurt when I would perform a certain movement and having them tell me to stop doing that thing that made it hurt. That may sound like a “duh” moment, but perhaps we need to hear that kind of no-brainer advice sometimes. Especially when it comes to Yoga.
One instance of pain you should heed can come with performing the downward-facing dog. This position has you on all fours, placing stress on the rotator cuff tendons. This position places the shoulder joints in an extreme and unnaturally flexed position. While stretching can be good, it can also be damaging. Unlike animals that regularly maneuver on all fours, any serious student of human anatomy knows that our arm bones and tendons are not equipped to bear our body weight.
Understanding the strain on the rotator cuff tendons caused by the downward dog begins with understanding the anatomy of the shoulder. The bony ridges on the top, or head, of the humerus, are called the lesser tubercle and the greater tubercle. Directly above these ridges lies the acromion. During activities such as the downward dog, the ridges rub against the acromion, and irritation is caused to the rotator cuff tendons and biceps tendons, as well.
In order to reduce or eliminate shoulder pain from the downward dog, you may be able to place your hands in a slightly different position on the floor. Try rotating them outward slightly. This rotation will be achieved by slightly rotating the head of the humerus outward, partially clearing the tubercles and tendons out of the way of the acromion. In the description above, you’ll notice the word “slightly.” It’s an important one. Too much rotation of the hands can cause wrist stress. By turning them out only 10-30 degrees, you may be able to lessen the irritation to the shoulder without causing problems for your wrist.
The downward dog isn’t the only activity in which shoulder irritation can be lessened by such slight rotation. Anytime your arms are in an overhead position, you may be able to rotate hands and shoulders outward in order to avoid problems. Examples include bench presses, military-style presses with weights, or even regular push-ups.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a boutique physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website at www.PhysioDC.com or call them at 202-223-8500.
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