Help! I’m tangled in my sports bra! Actually, my arm just won’t work!
If someone complains of a hurt shoulder and they describe it as some sort of catch when..”I raise my arm like this…” it’s a sure sign of rotator cuff injury.
Rotator cuff injuries are pretty common and depending on the severity, can often be healed on their own.
The key, as with any injury, is to simply understand what’s going on so that you can continue practicing yoga or whatever else it is you love to do. The only positive way to know it is a rotator cuff injury is with an MRI.
What is the Rotator Cuff?
The cuff is 4 muscles and it’s tendons who’s function is to stabilize the shoulder.
- teres minor
Rotator Cuff Injury
Any stress, tiny or large tear to any of these muscles and or their tendons is a rotator cuff injury.
The most common injury here is associated with the supraspinatus tendon where it attaches to the head of the humerus.
The job of the supraspinatus is to raise the arm above shoulder level. Depending on the severity of the injury, this movement is compromised.
This injury can be from tendonitis, impingement, bursitis or bone spurs.
Tendonitis occurs when the tendon is inflamed, often from rubbing against another part of the shoulder repetitively.
Bursitis is when the fluid protective sack that lies between the acromion process (see diagram) and the supraspinatus tendon gets inflamed.
Impingement occurs when the tendon and or bursa gets so inflamed that a sort of pinching happens between the acromion process and humerus. Because of bone shape variations, some people have more space here than others.
You can see how this type of injury could occur from chronic over use like throwing a ball over and over. Sometimes the injury can start with a sudden reach out of the arm or bracing with a hand to avoid a fall or to catch something. A tiny tear can occur that can then turn into a chronic injury.
There are a couple of situations where surgery is probably necessary here. One being when there is a traumatic or complete tear and the other when there is a bone spur causing the tear.
A bone spur is a tiny bony process that usually forms as the result of inflammation and they often just come with aging. They commonly form on the underside of the acromion, leading to impingement or stress on the tendon and or bursa sac.
Minor tears or strains are the most common injury in the rotator cuff and they can be healed on their own.
First of all, continue practicing yoga. It’s during the time of injury that our bodies and minds need this practice more than ever. Move forward seeing the injury as one tiny part of your body and the rest of your body as strong and capable.
Move with more awareness than ever. Notice the poses and actions that cause sudden pains or catches and just don’t do them or do them differently. Shoulder strengthening moves are almost always beneficial here. Holding planks, side planks and down dogs are good for keeping theses muscles active and strong. Of course, if the nature of your injury is such that this angle cause more pain for you then modify the postures by going to your knees or avoid all together. It really depends on the exact cause of your injury to know which postures will work, an MRI is a good idea.
You will probably find that actions like lifting your arms for poses like warrior one are difficult. Either don’t lift your arm or fold your arm into your body and attempt to lift straight up from there. It is important to keep the muscles and tendons as fluid and active as possible without causing further harm. If you don’t continue to move the injured shoulder and arm, you can develop a frozen shoulder which can be much more painful and difficult to heal.
Get to know your subscapularis.
This is the muscle you use when sliding your shoulder blades down your back. Activate these muscles often. The subscapularis can begin to help pick up the slack for the supraspinatus while it is healing. The more you activate this muscle, the more it will start to help with the job of lifting your arm above your shoulder, which is what the supraspinatus has trouble doing when injured. If you practice classical head stand, do this often with awareness. Emphasize the action of sliding your shoulder blades away from your ears. This will activate the subscapularis.
Using ice and anti-inflammatories will be helpful.
You might find that your shoulder hurts a lot at night. Try to avoid sleeping on the shoulder or in a position that causes pain. Uses pillows to prop yourself in the most comfortable position before falling asleep.
As with any other injury, be patient. Awareness is the key to continuing with your practice and healing. Know what the injury actually looks like and how certain actions affect it. You will get better eventually and have an entirely new appreciation for a healthy body.