My Loose Shoulders
In my youth, I was one of those kids who could always do splits, wind my arms around my body, etc. Loose ligaments. It was sort of fun and was probably one of the reasons I was attracted to yoga in my early 20’s. I could grab my elbows behind my back in Cow Pose (Gomukhasana). No one told me that this could be damaging to my shoulder joints. We have learned so much about the body in the last 40 years, since I started yoga, that now I make sure my students don’t overextend as I used to do. But, loose ligaments are not a positive attribute, as one learns with age.
Ligaments are connective tissue and they connect bone to bone to form joints. There are many ligaments in the shoulder joint (see graphic) that need to work properly to keep the joint healthy. When the ligaments are too loose, they make the joint unstable. They are mildly elastic to a point, but if they get over-stretched, especially over time, they do not return to their original shape. And, as we age, women, whose hormone levels change after menopause, often lose the ability for their ligaments to bounce back. Therefore, the joints become less stable. And, for those who are born with loose ligaments, this should be addressed early, as education can help prevent future damage.
I still meet hyperflexible yoga teachers who do not feel these restrictions apply to them. But I know many yoga teachers, now in their 50s and 60s, who are needing hip and shoulder surgery as a result. Yoga was not the cause of their problems. Most likely, it was genetically loose ligaments. Overextending into poses probably didn’t help, but may have sped up the time when surgery was needed.
Recently, a doctor of physical therapy told me that the combination of genetically loose ligaments combined with a genetic pre-disposition for arthritis is responsible for my shoulder “issues”. It was only a question of time. And, the time is apparently now.
So, what does this mean? I started noticing that my range of motion was becoming inhibited, and I had a feeling that my shoulder was not in the correct place in the socket. But, I also thought I could work on it myself, increase my stretches, and build strength in the muscles to support the joint. I did not know enough to be able to diagnose the whole problem and to therefore stop the deterioration sooner. By not knowing exactly how to slow this process, my body compensated and began using a new sequence of muscles in the shoulder instead of the “normal” one. Also, since there was such instability in the joint and genetically I am prone to arthritis, my body started making new osteophytes (bone) in the joint to help keep it in place. So, I need to re-learn the correct sequencing subconsciously, make sure I keep a diet that protects against inflammation (to prevent the arthritis), and regain the stability and strength to return the joint to health. This is certainly humbling, and I hope I can do this without surgery, but we’ll see. I have a few great teachers and guides who are helping me. I’ll keep you posted.
Are any of you having hip or shoulder problems? Please send me some comments on whether you are finding similar issues and how you are working on them.
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