Yoga can be an excellent way to help ease shoulder pain, and today I want to show you our favourite poses – with photos to guide you!
Simply incorporate these postures into your yoga practice.
- 1. Open Twist
- 2. Seated twist/ Half kingfish/ Ardha Matsyendrasana
- 3. Seated forward bend/ Paschimottanasana
- 4. Camel pose/ Ustrasana
- 5. Thread the needle
- 6. Cat/Cow
- 7. Cobra pose / Bhujangasana
- 8. Child’s pose / Balasana
- 9. Deer pose
- 10. Locust pose / Shalabasana
- 11. Bridge / Setu Bandhasana
- 12. Cow face pose / gomukhasana
- 13. Open Eagle
- 14. Sphinx pose
- 15. Fish pose / Matsyasana
- 16. Savasana
I will also provide some tips on how to modify these poses if you have any pain or injuries. Remember to listen to your body and only do what feels comfortable. If you ever feel increased pain, stop immediately and consult your physical therapist or doctor.
First, it might be useful for you to ask:
What’s my shoulder pain?
Shoulder pain can arise from repetitive motions, such as driving, or sitting at a desk in front of a computer.
This hunched position causes the shoulder blades to rotate forward, stressing the neck muscles and reducing the range of motion (ROM). Over time, this can lead to pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint, and neck pain.
Poor posture is a leading cause of chronic pain in the upper body .
Regularly we treat neck pain, tight shoulders, and headaches that have arisen from everyday posture habits, including the prolonged use of mobile phones.
In the past, you may have suffered a traumatic injury: a dislocated shoulder, rotator cuff tear, or SLAP tear.
These can all lead to pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint.
How does yoga help ease shoulder pain?
Yoga postures can help to stretch and lengthen the shoulder muscles, and fascia around the shoulder. This will improve range of motion, reducing pain.
Second, yoga postures can strengthen the muscles around the shoulder and shoulder blades . This is good news for upper back pain sufferers too!
Let’s take some deep breaths and begin our yoga postures for shoulder pain!
1. Open Twist
Start in a low lunge with your right foot forward, square your hips to the top of the mat and stack your left hand under your left shoulder onto a block, extend your right arm forward then sweep up and draw circles to prep the joints.
Hold the twist for 3 breaths grounding through your feet and lifting through your belly center before stepping back to downward dog (DD). Repeat on the opposite side. Finish in closed knee child’s pose to give the shoulders a reprieve.
2. Seated twist/ Half kingfish/ Ardha Matsyendrasana
Start seated with both legs extended in front of you (staff pose) bend your right knee and step your right foot to the outside of your left leg.
Place your right fingers behind you and twist to the right. Anchor your sit bones and lengthen your spine by lifting through the crown of your head, feel your collar bones widen. Hold for 5 -10 breaths, repeat opposite side.
3. Seated forward bend/ Paschimottanasana
Start seated on your yoga mat with both legs extended in front of you (staff pose) If your hamstrings are tight, place a bolster or cushion behind the back of your knees, reach arms up and fold forward.
You can fold onto pillows or rest your head onto a block for support.
4. Camel pose/ Ustrasana
Start kneeling, tuck toes under, and come up onto your knees. Place hands to lower back, fingers facing up or down, try to hug elbows towards each other.
Draw tailbone down and lift hip bones up to lengthen your lower back, pull belly to spine to activate core. Press hips forward and lift your heart up to the sky, breathe.
Sit back on your heels to feel the effects, then find closed knee child’s pose with arms behind for a few breaths to counter.
5. Thread the needle
Start in tabletop/all fours, ground your left palm, reach your right hand to the sky, then thread under your left arm, do this 3x then hold the twist resting your right cheek to the earth or a block.
Keep hips stacked over your knees. You can also support your shoulder on a prop here to make it more accessible. Hold for 5 breaths, repeat on opposite side. Use whichever option suits you better for shoulder pain.
Start in tabletop, press the floor away and round your spine, feel your shoulder blades separate and tuck your chin to your chest on an exhale.
Lift your tailbone, soften your belly to the floor and pull your heart between your arms as you inhale and feel your collar bones widen. Cycle through for 1-3 minutes, can move intuitively here also to awaken the spine.
7. Cobra pose / Bhujangasana
Start in high plank, shift forward and drop your knees, draw your belly in and lower slowly to your belly. Set your wrists under your elbows, press into the tops of your feet and lift your inner thighs so your knees are off the earth.
Hug your hands back energetically and move your heart forwards and up as you inhale, lower your forehead to the earth as you exhale, repeat 3x and shift to child’s pose to finish.
8. Child’s pose / Balasana
Come onto your knees and shins, take your legs as wide as feels comfortable, anchor through your sit bones then slowly start to crawl your hands forward as you create space.
Lower your chest towards the earth – you can use a bolster here to rest on.
Hold for 2-5 minutes focusing on your breath. Option to bend your elbows and rest your head to the backs of your hands if too intense for your shoulders.
9. Deer pose
Start in seated butterfly with the soles of your feet together, and swing your left leg behind you (knee bent) so that your legs are both at 90°.
Keep your front shin as parallel to the top of the mat as possible. Your right butt cheek should be heavy to the earth or a prop. Stay upright or start to slowly fold, allowing the sensation to be felt most in the right glute/outer right hip.
Arms can extend out in front or bend your elbows and rest your head on the backs of your hands. Could also fold onto a bolster. Hold for 2-5 minutes focusing on your breath. Repeat opposite side.
10. Locust pose / Shalabasana
Start by lying flat on your belly (prone), bring your arms by your side palms face down, with the tops of your feet pressing into the earth. Lift through your inner thighs to tone the legs, draw your navel to the spine to engage your core.
Start to lift shoulder heads up and away from the mat until your head and chest are lifted.
Tuck chin to lengthen the spine. Option to float hands and feet. Hold for 3-5 breaths then lower.
11. Bridge / Setu Bandhasana
Start by laying on your back (supine), set your feet hip-width apart, ensure you can reach the backs of your heels with your fingers.
Option to place a block under your sacrum, or slowly start to press into your feet and peel your spine away from the mat.
Engage your glutes creating length in your lower back, keep lifting through your hips and grounding through your feet. Stay for 3-10 breaths. Use option 1 for less tension in shoulders.
12. Cow face pose / gomukhasana
Can be done standing, feet hip-width distance, reach your right arm up, bend your elbow and pat yourself on the back. Reach your left arm behind you to catch your hand or use a strap to bridge the gap. Hold for 3-5 breaths, release and roll shoulders, repeat opposite side.
If doing seated start in staff pose, cross right knee on top of left – if you can keep your knees stacked, bend left leg under your right. Option to sit onto a block to give your hips more space.
13. Open Eagle
Start standing, take arms out wide and cross right arm under left, find a bind by grabbing a hold of your hands/fingers. Lift your right leg into stork and cross your right ankle over your left knee, and anchor your tailbone towards your heels.
Work here to separate your shoulder blades and lift your elbows up to stretch across your upper back. (if the bind isn’t available cross right arm under and hug yourself, reaching your fingers towards your scapula)
14. Sphinx pose
Start by lying on your belly, come up onto your forearms setting your elbows under your shoulders, hands shoulder-width apart.
Press into the tops of your feet and draw your pubic bone into the earth. Energetically hug elbows back towards your chest to broaden your collarbones.
Stay for 3-10 breaths. Release by lowering on to the floor, bend elbows and use your hands as a pillow, and gently rock your hips side to side.
15. Fish pose / Matsyasana
Start by lying on your back, prop yourself up onto your elbows and bring your palms face down underneath your sit bones. Arch your spine pulling your heart forward and point through your feet.
Drop your head back if it feels okay on your neck.
Hold for 3-5 breaths before slowly lowering to the earth, hug knees to chest or take happy baby here. For a more restorative option place a block between your shoulder blades and another one to rest your head back on.
Finish your practice in Savasana, come to lie on your back, extend your legs out long and let your feet fold open like a book.
Rest your arms by your side with your palms face up to integrate all the benefits of your practice. Give yourself permission to relax completely here and stay for as long as you need.
How to Adjust Your Yoga poses When You Have Shoulder Pain
If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, avoid poses that put strain on your shoulders or neck, which may happen in downward facing dog or Camel pose.
Second, use props such as blankets or yoga blocks to support the arms and shoulders in various poses. By making these simple adjustments, you can continue to enjoy the benefits of yoga while protecting your shoulders from further pain.
It’s beneficial (if you are able) to load some weight into your hands and fingers, e.g with the downward dog or high plank yoga positions. This will serve to de-load the shoulder joint.
Enjoy your Practice!
Try these 16 yoga postures for shoulder pain and stiffness. Be sure to modify the poses as needed.
With regular practice, you can see significant improvements in your shoulder pain naturally. Your physical therapist will be happy, and you can enjoy yoga and other activities for many years to come!
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