Neck & Shoulder Pain from ‘Downward Facing Dog’

One of the most commonly performed postures in a modern Yoga practice, is ‘Downward-facing dog’ (Adho mukha svanasana). It’s is also a position that I have found creates discomfort and even pain in many practitioners.

I often hear, as both a Yoga teacher and a manual therapist, that the shoulders and wrists are areas of greatest suffering. Not too surprising I might add, due to the shifting of weight, even if not on its entirety, into these often fragile structures.

Due to our more sedentary lives, our wrists and shoulders are no longer really functioning, with the same demand, as they may have in times gone by. We rarely place such stress and load bearing into these joint; thus they’re not necessarily strengthened to bear with load.

Unfortunately this isn’t always a consideration in the practice of Yoga, as ‘down-dog’ is often simply seen as a moment to recuperate, to rest between poses; and is often given to people even in their first ever session of practice, regardless of that persons physical history.

How are we to know, without detailed consultation, that our new arrival is ready to receive this posture, how can we know if ANY posture is ‘safe & healthy’ for an individuals anatomy?

I recognise my own hypocrisy in this endeavour, as I often don’t really enter take such care to consider the introduction of a body to the practice of Yoga, it’s so easy to think that this is a pedantic or unnecessary concern; but is it?

As a manual therapist, I’m always considering what techniques, practices and exercises are right for people who experience pain in their lives; perhaps I need to encourage both myself and the Yoga community to also perhaps make a greater commitment, not just to teach yoga, as we know it, but perhaps elevate it into the physical therapeutic practice it perhaps has the potential to be.

Avoiding pain in ‘Downward-Facing dog’

So without going to far away from my focus on ‘Downward-facing dog’; what would my best advice be to escape that pinching, nervy sensation we can find in shoulders and wrists.

Firstly, ensure that you’re distributing your weight into the whole hand and wrist, not just one par of the wrist (a common tendency is to roll into the outer or inner edges of the wrist). This adjustment will ensure a much cleaner line of the wrist structure, letting your weight fall through to the ground better.

Secondly, draw the Soft Tissues away from gravity, and send your bones ‘with Gravity’. This counter four was will stabilise and strengthen the wrist.

Thirdly, into the shoulders, ensure your not pushing so hard that your Scapula (shoulder blades) come towards each other…. try to find space between the blades, by ‘wrapping’ your shoulders around the outsides of your ribs.

Finally, keep the ribs drawn in, not over stretching/flexing the shoulders (allowing arms overhead), this also really weakens the joint. Instead strengthen the joint by keeping the arm pits a little more closed.

If you want to ask questions, or seek a 1-1 consultation, to better work with your body in practice, check out my page on ‘the Yoga Clinic’.

Downward facing dog, spacious shoulders | the Yoga Clinic
Spacious shoulders in ‘Downward-facing Dog’ | the Yoga Clinic