Should We Always Press our Shoulder Blades Back and Down?
Oftentimes, our Yoga Instructors will remind us to “pull our shoulder blades down and back.” While it is a commonly used technique, studies have shown that it is not an alignment that is highly recommended. Why is that? As it turns out, the excessive retraction can interrupt the Glenohumeral Rhythm.
The Glenohumeral Rhythm is a coordinated movement between the glenoid (shoulder) and scapula. Without it, negative consequences, such as snapping syndrome, could occur. Snapping syndrome can lead to bone spurs, rib/scapular fractures, nerve injuries, and even tumors. (Source: Meredith A. Lazar, MD, et al. Snapping Scapula Syndrome. In Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. September 2009. Vol. 91. No. 9. Pp. 2251-2262.)
One source says, “It will cause scapular depression and downward rotation, which has been associated with scapular dyskenisis (DS), shoulder impingement syndrome (SIS) and neck pain. Secondly, bio-mechanically it will set the patient in the Halstead’s costoclavicular compression (“military brace”) test position, which may result in plexopathy and thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS).” (Larsen, Kjetil. (2018). Postural cues for scapular retraction and depression promote costoclavicular space compression and thoracic outlet syndrome. Anaesthesia, Pain and Intensive Care. 22. 256-267.)
Many times, it is more beneficial to leave the spine in neutral or protraction, broadening the back, such as in Plank or 4-Limbed Staff (Chaturanga Dandasana).
Let’s review shoulder alignment for Plank and Chaturanga Dandasana.
- Keep your chest open and do not aggressively press the shoulder blades toward each other. They should stay close to neutral position (even slightly protracted) and they do not wing.
- If we cue “squeeze the shoulder blades together” this might not take into account balancing out the “pushing” and “pulling” muscles.
- The serratus anterior muscles play a large role when we push our shoulders forward while the trapezius and rhomboid muscles help us to pull our shoulders back. Thus these two sets of muscles work in dynamic opposition to each other. They, along with the posterior muscles fibers of the serratus muscles, help stabilize the shoulder blades when we exert force through the arms. This helps protect the front shoulder girlde from strainining. In Chaturanga Dandasana, we must learn how to balance the serratus anterior, triceps, and pectorals (“pushing” muscles) and the serratus posterior, trapezius, and rhomboids (“pulling” muscles).
- If your shoulders are incorrectly positioned in weight-bearing poses like plank or Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff pose), the bicep tendons are at risk of straining or tearing.
- Activating the trapezius muscles helps stabilize the shoulder blades on the back, which helps balance the action of the serratus muscles, which are involved in chaturanga Dandasana and related poses. Because the serratus anterior muscles attach to the ribs at the sides of the chest and connect underneath the shoulder blades, when they contract, they pull the shoulder blades forward. This action helps us push through the arms and (in coordination with the pec muscles) helps hold us steady in a plank position.
- Weak serratus muscles leads to shoulder blades wining out or lifting away from the rib cage when we push through the arms in plank position. If these muscles are weak, the shoulder blades will “wing out” or lift away from the ribs as we push through the arms in plank pose. This, in turn, leads to tightness and stress in the front of the shoulders may create dysfunctional movement patterns, which increases our risk of shoulder injury.
Larsen, Kjetil. (2018). Postural cues for scapular retraction and depression promote costoclavicular space compression and thoracic outlet syndrome. Anaesthesia, Pain and Intensive Care. 22. 256-267.
keller, D., 2020. [online] Doyoga.com. Available at: <https://www.doyoga.com/articles_all/11_march_08_rotators.pdf> [Accessed 13 March 2020].