Clicking Shoulders and Elbows with Vinyasa-Yoga Practice

Sometimes yogis whose practise incorporates a lot of vinyasa complain of clicking sounds in the shoulders and elbows, and even a restriction of motion in the elbows in some positions. Other unpleasant shoulder symptoms can include a pinching sensation between the shoulder blades, near the base of the neck, especially when doing head or handstands, or tingling or numbness in the fingers.
If this is bothersome enough to seek professional advice, there may be restrictions in the neck, which need to be treated, but for some people, the cause of these symptoms is shortening of the Biceps muscle: a side-effect of Chaturanga.

When holding Chaturanga, the arms are bent, which is a shortened position for the Biceps. Over time, it may become adaptively shortened, and due to its upper attachments on the scapula, a shortened Biceps pulls the scapula forward. Likewise, the bicep attachments onto both bones of the forearms will create tightness in the elbow joint, which may start to click when the elbow moves, or even restrict its movements.

If the scapula pulls forward the Pectoralis Minor muscle also shortens and the Upper Trapezius can start to pull and become painful, as it attempts to normalise the position of the scapula. A tight trapezius creates neck pain, but more seriously, incorrect scapular positioning narrows the space where the nerves and veins pass down into the arms and reduces circulation as well as compressing the nerves. Nerve compression causes numbness or tingling sensations in the fingers.
It is important to pay attention to the position of or the shoulder blades when doing vinyasa, keeping them back and down, but bound postures are vital, as they open the chest and front of the shoulder. Inverted postures also strengthen shoulders and help to maintain correct scapular position. Additional stretching of the biceps may also be necessary, especially at the elbows. This is usually done by standing next to a wall, body perpendicular, extending the arm at shoulder height, to place the palm flat on the wall. The ‘eye’ of the elbow is then rotated, to stretch the inner elbow.

Reading sources:
Kendall, McCreary, Provance 1993, Muscles, Testing and Function

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