What Are The Tilts Of The Scapula?

What Are the Tilts of the Scapulae?

4 Postures to Help You Lock Into These Shoulder Actions

SHOULDER ROTATION

WHAT ARE THE TILTS OF THE SCAPULAE?

When we first dive into studying anatomy, it’s all about the basics. Once the foundation is laid, it becomes easier to scaffold more information. There will always be a learning curve, however, especially in the context of yoga. In Chromatic yoga, it’s about more than intellectually understanding anatomy; it’s also about how we integrate our knowledge of anatomy into our bodies from a non-dogmatic point of view.

When studying shoulder anatomy, we are introduced to the basic actions (protraction, retraction, depression, and elevation). In today’s clip, Matt introduces us to the idea of “the tilts of the scapulae.” He explains that it can be a difficult concept to understand, both intellectually and physically. Essentially, it requires the co-activation of opposing muscle groups in order to create a lock for maximum support around the shoulder girdle. We gain insight into the tilts of the scapulae via 4 postures in today’s video.

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    UPWARD VS. DOWNWARD TILT OF THE SCAPULA

    Upward Tilt

    To begin integrating the upward tilt of the scapula into our bodies, we can begin by sitting upright and sending the shoulder forward while drawing the elbow back. This naturally sends the scapula climbing up over the rib cage.  It’s the pectoralis minor that initiates this action. This muscle helps pull the shoulder down towards the front of the ribs.

    Downward Tilt

    This can be harder to understand and integrate. The first step here may be to draw the head of the humerus back. When this happens, the bottom wing tip of the scapula pushes forward into the rib cage.  

    If we pull the rib cage back into the scapulae, as Matt explains in the full class, this creates a “suction cup” effect from the co-activation of opposing muscle groups. This is effective in our yoga practice when stability is required in postures like Chaturanga and arm balances like Side Crow.

    WATCH THE VIDEO

    WHAT ARE THE TILTS OF THE SCAPULAE?: 4 POSTURES TO LOCK IN ON THESE SHOULDER ACTIONS

    SIDE-ANGLE PREPARATION

    Part of integrating and understanding the upward and downward tilt of the scapulae is to explore the actions in postures in which we can remove some of the balance and strength elements from the equation. 

    When Matt demonstrates the downward tilt of the bottom scapula in Side-Angle Preparation, he explains that there is a distinction between where retraction and protraction take place. The initial action is still to pull the head of the humerus back, but understanding that there is a degree of retraction in the upper border of the scapula but protraction in the bottom wingtip helps us to negotiate its placement. We create the  protraction by pressing the elbow down into the top of the leg; this helps the bottom tip slide forward. From here, we can explore what the sensation feels like in order to record this pattern into our bodies.   

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    CHATURANGA AND JUMP BACKS

    In Chaturanga, it can be easy to fall into the pattern of allowing the head of the humerus to dip forward. When this happens, it’s very different from creating protraction. Repetitively allowing the head of the humerus to dip forward can cause strain in the anterior capsule of the shoulder. The goal is to create a play between the actions of external rotation of the humerus and protraction, depression, and retraction of the scapulae.  

    For Chaturanga Jump Backs, Matt presents a drill utilizing a towel. Again, we get an opportunity to practice the actions of external rotation of the arms, pulling the top of the arm bone back. Matt also reminds us that we can start by sending the scapulae into upward rotation to more distinctly feel the difference, and then execute the actions that will help us stabilize the jump back with the downward tilt of the scapulae. 

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    SIDE CROW

    In an arm balance like Side Crow, it’s imperative to feel more confident in our ability to “lock in” to the stability required. Because it’s required to send our weight forward in order to access the lift of the feet in the posture, we must be careful not to lean into an upward tilt—this would lead to imbalance in the posture and perhaps to a fall. In the clip, we see how the emphasis of pushing into the heel of the hands (which brings the bottom tip of the scapulae around) while sending the chest through (which draws the head of the arm bone back) and sending the weight forward into the fingers is ultimately what helps us access the balance required for Side Crow.

    ALLOW YOURSELF TIME FOR FULL INTEGRATION

    Ultimately, being patient enough to understand and integrate these actions will transform our experience in our practice. Exploring these actions in a variety of postures will take us on a journey of self discovery. We can tap into what comes naturally; at the same time, we can discover where we experience challenge and resistance. In the full class, Matt explains that upward and downward tilt of the scapulae can be difficult to comprehend. What this means is that it may require more persistence to uncover what is possible in our bodies.

    Register for Matt’s 2-hour online shoulder workshop, The Shoulder Reset, where there will be an abundance of opportunities to more deeply connect to and understand the biomechanics of the shoulders and how these new understandings can be applied to our yoga practice. 

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    Videos Extracted From: Shoulder Revelation

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    Side Angle Pose

    Side Angle Pose

    Shoulder Fix at the Wall

    upward rotation

    SIDE ANGLE POSE

    Stop for a moment and think about how many times you lift your arms overhead in any given asana practice. There are plenty of opportunities, aren’t there? Side Angle Pose is a perfect example.  

    Also think about how this action is an everyday occurrence off of your yoga mat. It doesn’t even have to be in another movement practice, or maybe reaching up to grab something out of a cupboard. It could simply be a natural bodily instinct when you feel like you need a little stretch after sitting at your work desk for most of the day. An action like this can be so easily taken for granted. Lifting your arms up over your head without pain is a privilege for so many, and it can be quite frustrating when you want to engage in such a “simple” movement/action but have difficulty doing so. The same thing rings true when you consider a foundational posture like Side Angle Pose. This pose seems  “innocent” enough but may not be so simple when there is pain that keeps you from lifting your top arm overhead.

    Unfortunately, pain from this action is commonly rooted in the myth that it is better to draw your shoulders away from your ears even when your arms are overhead. This is often communicated in yoga classes, but let’s bust this myth with some anatomy of the shoulder.

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    SHOULDER ANATOMY

    The acromion process is almost like a little bone that sticks out and is essentially the front part of the scapula. If you were to palpate and travel along the “spine of the scapula” (on the upper border of the scapula) and follow that along towards the top of the shoulder, you would feel a small flat surface underneath your fingers.

    Underneath the scapula is the supraspinatus (a rotator cuff muscle), which exists underneath this acromioclavicular joint (AC joint). Within this space, you’ll also find soft tissue called the bursa. Bursae are like little liquid-filled sacs that help minimize friction between the moving parts of the joints throughout your body. Underneath the “shelf” of the AC joint, you’ll find the subacromial bursa and the subdeltoid bursa.  

    The action of pulling your shoulders down while trying to lift your arms up may cause compression, pinching the soft tissues. This can lead to issues like bursitis (inflammation of the bursa), tendonitis, or, in some more extreme scenarios, the tearing of the supraspinatus. When these types of issues arise, they create what’s often referred to as shoulder impingement: “Patients with shoulder impingement syndrome suffer from painful entrapment of soft tissue whenever they elevate the arm.” In order to avoid this entrapment, Matt explains that it’s imperative that we learn how to upwardly rotate the shoulder blades.  

    Garving C, Jakob S, Bauer I, Nadjar R, Brunner UH. Impingement Syndrome of the Shoulder. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017 Nov 10;114(45):765-776. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0765. PMID: 29202926; PMCID: PMC5729225.

    WATCH THE VIDEO: SIDE ANGLE POSE: SHOULDER FIX AT THE WALL

    SHOULDER IMPINGEMENT

    Once you understand the mechanics, it’s easier to understand why shoulder impingement may start to present itself in Side Angle Pose and other yoga postures where your arms go past shoulder height.  

    In the following study, we learn that shoulder impingement is both common and can be more complex:

    “Shoulder pain is the third most common musculoskeletal complaint in orthopedic practice, and impingement syndrome is one of the more common underlying diagnoses. On the pathophysiological level, it can have various functional, degenerative, and mechanical causes. The impingement hypothesis assumes a pathophysiological mechanism in which different structures of the shoulder joint come into mechanical conflict. The goal of treatment is to restore pain-free and powerful movement of the shoulder joint.”

    Garving C, Jakob S, Bauer I, Nadjar R, Brunner UH. Impingement Syndrome of the Shoulder. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2017 Nov 10;114(45):765-776. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0765. PMID: 29202926; PMCID: PMC5729225.

    Asana practice does not replace treatment where necessary, but you can be proactive in trying to avoid shoulder impingement by moving with more intention and understanding. An asana practice may also serve as support to medical treatment.

    So how can you move with more intention and understanding in Side Angle Pose?

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    MOVE WITH INTENTION

    Part of the intention in Side Angle Pose and other postures that require the action of lifting your arms overhead is to protect the subacromial space underneath the acromion process. You can reduce collision and obstruction by accentuating the movement of the angle of the joint. This happens by lifting the collar bone up and tilting the scapulae upward. As your arm goes up, the angle of the glenohumeral joint changes because the bottom tip of the scapula rotates up and forward. This change in the articulation of the joint helps reduce or possibly remove any pinching in the area, thus preventing pain.

    When your arms go up, there are a number of muscle co-activations that are taking place to facilitate the bones’ movement (i.e., collar bone and scapulae). As the supraspinatus engages, it (hopefully) lifts the clavicle. The serratus anterior helps to pull the shoulder blade forward, and the co-activation of the lower and upper fibers of the trapezius will help with the rotation of the scapulae. In order to maintain the subacromial space, your shoulders need to lift up towards your ears. Setting yourself up at a wall for Side Angle Pose assists in the deeper understanding of the anatomy and biomechanics of the posture.

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    SIDE ANGLE SHOULDER FIX AT THE WALL

    (right foot forward)

    In the video, you’ll see how Matt uses the wall to deepen the sensation of engagement/activation of muscles. A wall in Side Angle Pose is a great prop that reminds you to reach not only through your hand but also through the shoulder blade.

    Here are the steps:

    1. Set up your mat perpendicular to a wall
    2. With your right toes facing the wall, place your right forearm on your thigh, with groins back
    3. Hand is by your side like in Tadasana 
    4. Externally rotate the upper arm bone (will retract scapula)
    5. Reach down and away (point the finger to emphasize the reach)
    6. As the arm comes up, make sure that outer line of the scapula is reaching; get your shoulder to touch your ear. In this way, you’ll find that you have a greater range of motion
    7. Touch the wall with your fingertips and push into the wall with the hand 
    8. Turn chest underneath. If your armpit goes forward here, suck the armpit back as you push

    This is where a progression may be possible: The right forearm might leave the thigh, and you can place your hand next to the pinky side of your foot. If this is the case, your head may lower, creating more space between your shoulder and your ear. It is important to continue reaching through your hand and pulling your armpit back. 

    It’s these seemingly tiny actions that create a huge impact on the experience in your body. Building in this kinesthetic awareness can help you to reduce the occurrence of injury and help you increase your range of motion in the shoulders. Shoulder Mobility starts Saturday November 5th.

    See you on the mat!

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    Video Extracted From: Anatomy In Motion

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