4) More Considerations: Upper Back General Approach

  • In a pose such as Upward Salute where the arms reach up, the shoulder blades must be allowed to lift but the upper trapezius muscles (which attach at the base of the skull) should release so there is “no congestion near the base of the neck, and the sides of the neck are free to lengthen.” (Marla Apt)
  • Move arms with neck when addressing neck pain or stiffness; that is, whenever head is raised, lowered or rotated, arms move correspondingly. (A.G. & Indra Mohan)
  • Work neck by adjusting relationship between head and shoulders; either stabilize shoulders while turning head or turn shoulders in one way and head in other (Gary Kraftsow, Yoga for Wellness 1999, pg 144)
  • In weight-bearing activities, “pressing through the elbow when the arm is weight-bearing activates the deeper muscles—latissimus dorsi, subscapularis, and teres major—that pull the head of the arm bone down and back, away from the acromion process; this prevents the pinching of the supraspinatus.” (Doug Keller)
  • Ray Long MD notes here that studies show having a strong core can improve the efficiency of the rotator cuff which leads to improved stability of the shoulder girdle.
  • Massage upper chest muscles. (Doug Keller)
  • With Frozen Shoulder Syndrome, “you actually have to move into far enough into stretch that it is painful. This is in contrast to physical therapy for rotator cuff injuries, where you would not go to the point of pain.” (Baxter Bell)

Figure Out What Is Happening

Often it is NOT the shoulder joint itself that’s the problem. The shoulder often ends up on the receiving end of what’s happening elsewhere in the body; namely the chest, upper and middle back. So we need to stop stretching the shoulder with intricate Cow Face-like maneuvers and stop trying to strengthen it with challenging weight-bearing poses. When we intend to work with the shoulder discomfort we usually have three main objectives: 1) Figure out what is causing the problem, 2) Stretch and strengthen the muscles that bind the shoulder girdle to the spine and ribcage, and 3) Mobilize the shoulder. – Olga Kabel