Technique Tuesday — Shoulder Injury Prevention 101

Time to get your inner anatomy geek on... nerd alert!

Time to get your inner anatomy geek on... nerd alert!

Welcome to a special edition Technique Tuesday, brought to you by our very own anatomy coach — the one and only Richelle Ricard, the Yoga Engineer

Yoga is a special practice because of its ability to access all joints in nearly every range of motion — it’s an opportunity to get beyond our habitual patterns and counter our most repetitive movements. In daily life, we most often reach forward to our keyboard, steering wheel, dinner plate, etc., so our shoulder tissues become conditioned to a hunched-forward posture and susceptible to injury when we dive into more dynamic movements. Athletes in particular require a far greater range than these habits train us for, and yoga is a sure bet to gain the movement the shoulder blade needs for rowing, throwing, shooting, and much more.

You see in the picture above how the humerus (upper arm bone) has big bumps at the top? When we reach overhead, those bumps can compress the soft tissue that runs between the bones of the shoulder joint: code red! Also at risk is the labrum — the thin cartilage rim that helps keep the head of the humerus aligned with the scapula. The cure for injuries to these tissues is usually surgery, and most athletes can’t afford that kind of trauma and recoup time. Prevention is the key here, and one little adjustment will help ensure health, strength, and vitality in your shoulders for a lifetime.

The shoulder is capable of a very complex system of movements, but for our purposes, we’re going to focus on one potent movement: external rotation of the humerus. Whether you’re reaching overhead to shoot a basketball, or bearing weight while busting out push-ups, this movement will help align both your scapula and your humerus for efficient movement. External rotation of the arm (think turning a door knob) helps drive an action we call retraction, which is the action that puts the scapulae in neutral alignment — the place where it’s supposed to be — and gets it ready for action. External rotation also gets those boney bumps out of the way so that our soft tissues have smooth and roomy passage through the shoulder joint.

Try it: Externally rotate your upper arm bone

  • Stand straight with your arms limp.
  • Turn your palms forward and point the tips of your elbows back, instead of out to the side.
  • You will likely feel (subtly, perhaps) the scapulae hug gently toward the center of your upper back as your chest broadens — it’s automatic.
  • Now, reach your arms out to the side at shoulder height, palms down. Rotate your palms to face the sky and point the tips of your elbows to the ground — you might feel your chest broaden and shoulders drop slightly.

A little adjustment can go a long way. Even with your arms hanging at your side, you can feel the difference in your shoulders and upper back when you externally rotate your humerus. So remember, reaching in any direction or bearing weight in your hands requires awareness and intentional external rotation of the humerus. It’ll help keep you off the surgeon’s table and in the game.

Hit up Richelle for more practical anatomy tips for your sports and your life — she teaches regular classes and workshops in Seattle, and hooks up the best massage you will ever have. Learn more at