Function & Movements: The Shoulder Girdle: Function & Issues

  • The shoulder girdle gives the arms support, mobility and stability for such movements as raising and lowering the arms in Urdhva Hastasana(Upward Salute) or applying force as in Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose).
  • The direction and quality of arm movement is determined by muscles that form a bridge between the shoulder and the arm bone. If some muscles are tight, for example, the arm bone can rotated internally as we see in a slumping posture.

The movement of your shoulder is actually quite complex; it’s not just those two bones moving relative to one another. Instead, when your arm bone moves in different directions, the shoulder blade slides and glides around on your back and side rib cage, too. Although this makes the shoulder joint’s movements more complex than the hip joint, the shoulder has the same six basic movements, which can be combined in various ways. – Baxter Bell

Scapula Movements

  • Protraction — move shoulder blades away from spine as in Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
  • Retraction — pull (or “pinch”) shoulder blades toward spine as in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2)
  • Elevation / Upward Rotation — move shoulder girdle up as in shrugging shoulders or in Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand)
  • Depression / Downward Rotation — draw shoulders downward away from ears as in Tolasana (Scale Pose)

Upper Arm Movements




  • Taking arms from alongside body out to side or all the way up along head
  • As in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior 2)


  • Returning arms back alongside body such as from Warrior 2
  • “If you add in a little flexion, you can continue the adduction across the front of the body… in Eagle Pose. If you add in a little extension, you can continue adduction across the back of your body… in Reverse Prayer Pose.” (Baxter Bell)
  • As in Garudasana (Eagle Pose)

External Rotation

  • Rolling upper arm bone away from midline
  • When arms are by sides, palms turn forward
  • As in Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) or palms up in Savasana (Corpse Pose)

Internal Rotation

  • Rolling upper arm bone in toward midline
  • When arms are by sides, palms face back
  • As in Reverse Namaste and bottom arm of Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)