Yoga for Firefighters, Shoulder Edition: Part 1
We are working on getting a Yoga for Firefighters (and their families) class approved by the Firefighter’s Health Plan. The tenacious and dapper Lt. Joe Clark is spearheading this effort, but until that is off the ground, I wanted to address some of the specific physical challenges that firefighting creates.
First up, the shoulder. In order to understand which yoga postures are helpful to prevent shoulder injuries, and in the event that fails, promote recovery of shoulder issues, you have to know a little about the shoulder structure.
In short, the shoulder is built for mobility, not stability or strength. The shoulder joint (the glenoid socket) is a wide and shallow joint which has a large range of motion. Because of this huge range, injuries happen fairly easily. The supporting cast of the back side of the shoulder are the four rotator cuff muscles, the trapezius, the levator scapulae and the rhomboids. The pectorals support from the front, and the deltoids form the end caps.
Common issues include, tendonitis, bursitis and impingement (often vaguely called “rotator cuff injuries”). Cumulative stress on the shoulder is caused by repetitive movements, compression (being forced to bear weight) and sustained, awkward positional use (like overhauling a building). Any of this sounding familiar?
So how can yoga help? Well first of all, thanks for asking, good to see you are still reading, yoga can help a couple of ways. Yoga increases flexibility and range of motion, allowing you to move more freely avoiding impingement issues. Yoga poses which strengthen and condition the rotator cuff muscles add support to the shoulder structure. Finally, you can expect increased circulation to the shoulder to help avoid inflammation issues, and speed recovery should an injury occur.
Three of my favorite shoulder poses include Thread the Needle, Prone Anterior Shoulder opener (it doesn’t have a cute yoga name) and Puppy pose. First, Thread the Needle, great for opening that space between the shoulder blades.
Come to hands and knees, extend your right arm out to the side lining up the wrist, elbow and shoulder. Then feed the right arm (palm facing up) behind the left arm and lower down on the right outer shoulder, adjust yourself until you find a place where your head and neck are comfortable.
Start to walk the fingers on the left hand up towards the top of the mat, until you can gently press into the palm causing a little more sensation and rotation in the upper back. Hold for 5-10 long breaths and then switch sides.
Second, Prone Anterior Shoulder opener, is a fantastic pose to open the front of the shoulder. This is an easy pose to overdo so show some restraint.
Lie on your belly, turn your head to the right (resting on your left cheek). Extend your right arm out and line up your index finger with your sight-line. Then turn your head to the left, so you are resting on your right cheek.
Start to roll onto your right side and bend your knees, bringing your left palm to the floor, close to your chest. If you are feeling a lot of sensation in the front of the shoulder stay here. If you need a little more, straighten your right leg and place your left foot on the floor behind you. Stay here for about 30-60 seconds, and then take it to the other side.
Finally, Puppy pose for an overall shoulders and the spinal stretch.
Come to hands and knees, keeping the hips over the knees walk the hands forward, lowering the chest towards the floor. Lower your forehead, (or possibly your chin) to the mat, draw your shoulder blades back and down into the spine and reach your hips for the ceiling. Hold for 5-10 slow breaths.
These three poses can help improve your shoulder health. In part 2 of shoulder edition, I will address the specific problem of labrum injuries, a craze that seems to be sweeping the nation.