Shoulder Injury in Yoga: Cause and Prevention

Shoulder Injury in Yoga: Cause and Prevention

Yoga practice can cause or aggravate a shoulder injury. Improper posture alignment, overextensions of the shoulder, weak wrists or hyper-extended elbows all contribute.

Shoulder problems often occur in Ashtanga or power yoga practice. Improper yoga positions or overextension during chaturanga increases the risk of shoulder pain. Typical injuries of the shoulder joint are tendonitis, bursitis, and arthritis.

All are inflammatory processes that may develop from over use, trauma, and genetics. Repetitive yoga practice and positions can be hard on the joints. Arm balances look exciting but may not be as difficult as less exciting postures. Rotator cuff injuries can occur without proper alignment or with overzealous jump throughs, if a supporting elbow, wrist, or musculature is weak.

Side Plank and Shoulder Pain

Neck pain yoga

Supporting the upper body on the same side foot and arm strengthens the surrounding shoulder muscles. The necessary straightening of the supporting arm can also be a cause of injury. The arm may hyper-extend.

  • The hand should be directly under the shoulder with the opposite hand directed skyward.
  • Both shoulders should be in a perfect line.
  • There should always be a teacher checking beginning students since this posture is not visible to the student in a mirror.
  • The practitioner may not feel the shoulder imbalance until it is too late and injury occurs.

Chaturanga and Ashtanga and Shoulder Problems


Ashatanga is a vigorous practice with multiple chaturangas dispersed between postures. The push-up/ pull movement from plank to upward dog and back to down dog can affect the shoulder joints even with proper alignment.

  • Without the alignment, injury is almost inevitable.
  • Never hyper-extend the plank push-up movement to the point where the shoulders are above the rest of the body.
  • Before the chest scoops down on the floor it should be moving outward (forward) to updog or cobra.
  • The elbows shouldn’t appear as pointed wings above the body but as level parallel posts supporting either side of the chest.
  • The push-up of Chaturanga isn’t a triceps pushup rather than a typical bicep push-up. The elbows point backward toward the feet. Ashtanga is sometimes called the “man’s yoga” because the strength is in the triceps.
  • Bring the knees to the floor to modify the push-up with the forward transition to updog.
  • Be sure weight is evenly placed on the palms and all five spread fingers.

What to do About Shoulder Pain During or After Exercise

Yoga instructors always advise students not to do anything that causes pain. The difficulty is distinguishing “good” pain from bad.

  • Good pain comes from well-aligned bodywork. Good pain isn’t sharp or nagging like a toothache. Good pain is muscle strengthening, not bone crackling.
  • Pause immediately if tenderness from past shoulder injury is repeated with a certain movement or posture.
  • Work with an instructor before placing the arm in a position that caused the original injury. This way the original situation isn’t repeated by improper stance.
  • Do not “work through” the pain. Allow the area to rest.
  • Use anti-inflammatories as directed by a medical provider.
  • Tylenol relieves pain but not inflammation.
  • Seek medical attention for any questionable aches and pains.

Despite the additional cost, sometimes it is practical to have private sessions with a respected teacher so alignment can be evaluated and injury prevented. Despite the best practice, injuries may still occur.

Shoulder Injury in Yoga: Cause and Prevention

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