exercises and poses to avoid with rotator cuff injury

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With living an active lifestyle, sometimes injuries catch us off guard. As much as we try to avoid them, life happens; less movement, weakness in supporting muscles, poor form, and can find ourselves with unwanted aches and pains. One of the most common shoulder injuries involves damage to the rotator cuff muscles. 

What Are Rotator Cuff Injuries  

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons work together to stabilize the shoulder and help lift the arm. A rotator cuff injury can occur when these muscles and tendons become weak or damaged. 

These injuries are relatively common, especially in people over 40 years old. Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include pain (burning and sharp), weakness, and limited range of motion in the affected arm. Treatment for a rotator cuff injury may include rest, ice, physical therapy, or surgery. Recovery from rotator cuff injury can take several months, but full use of the affected arm is usually regained with proper treatment. If you are uncertain if you have this injury, please consult a doctor. 

Yoga Poses to Avoid for Rotator Cuff Injuries  

Yoga is a great way to stretch and strengthen the muscles around the rotator cuff, but if you have an injury, there are some poses you should avoid. Here are eight poses to avoid if you have a rotator cuff injury and some alternative poses that may be more comfortable.


Chaturanga (Low Plank) 

Chaturanga is another pose that can be tough on the rotator cuff muscles and tendons. If you have an injured shoulder, try doing half chaturanga (on your knees) instead, wall push ups or skipping this pose altogether. 

Downward Facing Dog Pose

The Downward Facing Dog Pose is a common yoga pose that involves extending the arms and legs while keeping the back straight. However, this pose puts pressure on the shoulders and can aggravate a rotator cuff injury. If you have a rotator cuff injury, it is best to avoid this pose. An alternative pose you could try is a wall plank or tabletop pose on your knees to help take the pressure off your shoulders. 

Upward Facing Dog Pose

The Upward Facing Dog Pose is another yoga pose that can be problematic for those with a rotator cuff injury. This pose involves lying on the stomach and pushing up so the arms are straight and the legs are off the ground. This position puts strain on the shoulders and can cause pain. Try Cobra Pose or Bridge Pose as alternatives.


Camel Pose

This pose involves kneeling on the ground and reaching back to grab the ankles, causing the rotator cuff muscles to move into a potentially uncomfortable position. Camel Pose creates movement in the shoulder joints and can cause pain and even further impingement. Try Cobra Pose or Bridge Pose as alternatives.

Cow Face Pose

This pose involves extending the arms to the side and then bringing them behind the back so that the hands meet between the shoulder blades, creating pressure on your rotator cuff. Instead, bring your hands together in front of your body. 


Triangle Pose/Half Camel

Avoid poses that require you to put your hands above your head, such as Triangle Pose or Half Camel. These poses could create strain on the rotator cuff muscles and tendons. You can choose to keep your injured shoulder at your side and use your other arm in the pose. If possible, be mindful of movement and weight bearing around the injured rotator cuff while flowing in your practice. 


Warrior II

Poses that require you to hold your arms out to the side (like Warrior II) can also be problematic. Instead, try placing your hand on your hips or placing a strap over your shoulders and in each hand to lighten the load on your shoulders.



All inversions, including headstand and shoulder stand, should also be avoided if you have a rotator cuff injury. Inversions require increased pressure on the shoulders and upper body, which is a no-go for rotator cuff injuries. If attempted, these poses can make an injury worse. Try the legs-up-the-wall (Viparita Karani) pose instead. 

If you feel a pinch, tweak, or pain at any moment while moving through your poses, immediately stop. It takes ample time to heal and completely recover from a rotator cuff injury, so the last thing you want to do is “push through the pain” and end up injuring yourself even more. Patience is the best practice here. 

Yoga can be a great tool to use in your recovery; however, you must ensure that you execute the poses correctly. Never hesitate to ask your instructor for an alternative pose. They are there to help you have the best practice! Plenty of other yoga poses can provide a good stretch without aggravating an existing injury. 


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