Let's start by doing a quick recap of our shoulder anatomy:
· The shoulder or glenohumeral joint is a ball and socket joint that involves the articulation between the head of the arm bone (humerus) and the glenoid fossa of shoulder blade (scapula)
· It is a shallow joint and has the greatest mobility of all joints in the body
· With this range of movement comes instability and a risk of dislocation
· The joint relies on a set of muscles called the Rotator Cuff muscles to provide stability
The Rotator Cuff muscles:
The Infraspinatus lies below the spine of the scapula and inserts on the greater tuberosity of the humerus. It works alongside Teres minor to produce external rotation. These are the only two muscles in the body that facilitate this movement.
The Supraspinatus lies above the spine of the scapula and also inserts on the greater tuberosity of the humerus. It initiates arm abduction and is the most frequent rotator cuff muscle to become injured due to impingement.
The Subscapularis lies beneath the scapula, inserts on the lesser tuberosity of the humeral head and is involved in internal rotation of the shoulder joint.
What is Shoulder Impingement?
The Supraspinatus travels through the shoulder joint and its tendon can become impinged (pinched) between the acromion process of the scapula and the greater tuberosity of the humerus. During flexion of the shoulder joint, external rotation of the humerus and contraction of the triceps draws the greater tuberosity and the acromion away from each other and may prevent impingement. This is particularly important when bearing weight on the arms, for example, when practising Downward Facing Dog.
It is important to note that each of us have unique anatomy and while many of us will feel more spacious in our shoulder joints with a degree of external rotation, some of us may benefit from internally rotating. Explore this in your own body by standing with your arms by your side and raising your arms slowly above your head while externally rotating your arm bones and then internally rotating your arm bones. Which variation felt more spacious? Which variation allowed for more smooth, controlled movement? Did one variation feel uncomfortable?
How can Chaturanga potentially lead to shoulder problems if not practised appropriately for your body?
When practising Chaturanga, lowering to a position where the elbows are higher than the shoulder joint can put a lot of strain on the front of the shoulder, particularly the long head of the Biceps brachii. Overtime this can lead to injury or destabilisation of the shoulder joint. A precipitating problem is that the pose is often rushed and not practised in a controlled way.
The second issue arises when the elbows are allowed to flare wide to the side as the torso is lowered. As the elbows move in this direction this creates a degree of internal rotation in the shoulder joint and may lead to Shoulder Impingement for certain individuals. This also helps to explain why the common variation “knees-chest-chin” isn’t helpful for many people. It is nearly impossible to lower your knees, then chest and then chin without your elbows flaring. This variation also doesn’t help to build strength in the muscles that will eventually allow you to practice the full expression of Chaturanga.
The opposite action can also lead to its own set of problems! Hugging the arms in too strongly to the side of the body can begin to pull the head of the humerus out of the socket through the powerful action of Latissimus dorsi. Balanced action is therefore the key!
Here are my 6 top tips for practising Chaturanga:
- Think of moving forward and not down, like a plane landing. This will encourage your spine to stay long and in its natural curves
- Keep your belly taut so that your core strength can support the movement
- Try practising lowering onto a bolster for support
- Keep your shoulders above the level of your elbows
- Draw your elbows back as you glide forward with control and gently hug your arms towards your torso
- Its a strong pose but stay within your pain-free range of movcment
You can watch my short Chaturanga tutorial by clicking here.