Asana, Yoga Therapy

Three Things to Consider When Your Shoulder Hurts

Shoulder pain can make it hard to do the things you love to do. Can yoga help?

Because I’m a yoga therapist and teacher, people tend to ask me for certain kinds of advice. It usually goes a little something like this.

My shoulder is killing me! It’s keeping me up all night and I’m exhausted. What poses should I do?

I hear you. Being in pain can be exhausting. It can affect your mood, sleep, and ability to think clearly, never mind all the activities it prevents you from doing. It’s hard to be effective in your work and relationships when you’re in pain!

The bad news is that I can’t give you a list of 3-5 poses that will help your shoulder, in spite of what many websites and social media pages would have you believe. The poses in those articles were chosen because they helped somebody, but because every person with shoulder pain is different, there is no single set of poses that will help everyone. The good news is that I am very effective at helping my clients reduce their pain using an approach that goes beyond “this pose is for shoulders”. In a sense, I am uniquely qualified to answer this question, just not in the way that people expect me to.

First, the fine print.

I’m not a doctor. I can’t diagnose your shoulder pain or prescribe treatment. If your shoulder hurts, I encourage you to get evaluated by a medical professional. They can do lots of things for you that I can’t, and ultimately, yoga is not a replacement for medical services. It is, however, an amazing complement to the Western medical model of care. My clients, if they stick with the practice, consistently see improvement in their symptoms. A big reason for this, in fact, is that I am not treating the shoulder. I’m looking at the big picture of who you are, what is going on in your life, and how you are breathing and moving through the world as a whole.

Yoga for shoulder pain

So how does this whole-person approach address shoulder pain? Here are three things I recommend considering if your shoulder hurts, especially if you’ve tried other things and they haven’t helped.

1. Consider more than your shoulder.

It’s all connected.

Yes, your shoulder hurts. You may have tissue damage in your shoulder. And in my experience, people with shoulder pain have issues in other areas that are contributing to how they feel, particularly if they have had pain for a long time. The muscles that move your shoulders interrelate with your neck, back, abdomen, and pelvis. This means that shoulders can affect many other parts of the body and vice versa. Some of the things I look at in clients with shoulder pain include:

  • How the parts of their shoulders work together.
  • How they move their leg bones in their hip sockets.
  • How well they do spinal twists and side bends.
  • How they are breathing.
  • How well their core functions.

2. Rest and relaxation have an important relationship to pain.

When it comes to pain, rest matters.

Sometimes people don’t like to hear this one because it feels like they don’t have time to rest. I get it. And what I’ve learned is that there are ways to make rest and relaxation part of your life that are feasible, sustainable, and effective. Rest – not just for your shoulder, but for your whole system – is an important ingredient in pain reduction for a lot of folks, and it probably takes less time than you think to create more opportunities for rest, so it’s absolutely worth it. You also have to find ways to calm your nervous system – which might be very different from what other people do (and it’s one of the things I love to help my clients figure out).

3. Your body is trying to tell you something.

Connecting with sensation is the key to figuring out how you should move.

Pain is no fun, but it’s there for a good reason. Pain is arguably your body’s most obvious way of telling you it needs you to change something. Your body has a number of other subtler signals, which might include sensations of tightness, gripping, pulling, breath holding. When we have pain, it’s usually because we’re not aware of those quieter, kinder signals so our body feels the need to not-so-subtly “scream” at us. No fun at all.

This fact – that pain is communication from your body – holds the key to getting out of pain. As you learn more about your movement and get more skilled at connecting with and interpreting the sensations you feel in your body, you can intervene before you get to the level of pain. Symptoms go down. And when they come back, you know what to do. Your resilience grows.


So what’s next?

If this approach resonates with you, you don’t have to do it alone. I know shoulder pain both as a yoga therapist and because I’ve lived with it. I love to help people understand what’s going on in their bodies so that they can move better and feel better. If you’re curious about working together, click below to book a free online consultation call to find out more about my program options for people with shoulder pain and to see if we’re a good fit.

Want to learn more first?

5 thoughts on “Three Things to Consider When Your Shoulder Hurts”

  1. Great post! I agree that everything is connected in the body. I’ve recently been experiencing some low back pain and I noticed that when I stretched my calves and hamstrings, the pain wasn’t as bad, making me believe some of my back pain comes from my legs being so tight!

    1. Thanks for sharing! I do often see a correlation between tightness though the backs of the legs and low back pain. It’s so awesome to find something that gives relief – and sometimes people find stretching isn’t enough to feel better in a sustainable way, so then the question becomes: what else helps? Here’s something to consider: why are the backs of the legs tight? Sometimes there is something else going on that contributes both to the tight leg muscles and the low back pain. I’d be curious about how your thigh bones are moving in your hip sockets, and what other parts of the body move when you move the legs. Let me know if you’d like to explore more. šŸ™‚

      1. I would love to explore more! Right now, I am currently working on my feet all day, so I believe this has a lot do with it – along with the fact that I play rugby!
        I got really into yoga about 8 months and it has truly changed my life – physically and mentally.

      2. It’s definitely a life-changing practice, and I’m so excited for you. It sounds like you’re on the right track with all the work you’re doing! Feet and backs of the legs can have a lot to do with how our backs feel. I can add some posts about hip stuff to the blog and my social media for you in the coming weeks. (Sometimes I’m a slow posting but I’m making a concerted effort to add more of this requested content soon!) I also offer online therapeutic yoga classes and private sessions, which would give me a chance to look at how you’re moving and give you some more personalized feedback if that’s something you’d be interested in. If you’re curious but you’re still not sure, message me about setting up a free consultation call and we can chat about options.

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