We love yoga!  Some love vinyasa flow so much, it’s their “jam.”  Those high to low planks, Chaturanga Dandasana, in the sometimes 10 and 15 a session.  Wow and ouch!  I want to chat with you about some common injuries that can happen with misaligned chaturanga that can lead to shoulder strain and rotator cuff injuries as well as neck pain and low back pain. So it is important to do this asana properly.  Doing a pose incorrectly over and over again = potential for repetitive motion injuries, such as rotator cuff, shoulder and wrist injuries.

Some other common injuries to the shoulder happens in the front, where the short head of the biceps muscle attaches to the shoulder blade, a biceps tendon strain. This injury is most common in Ashtanga Vinyasa and subsequent ‘flowing’ yoga styles that incorporate a lot of Sun Salutations and chaturangas.


​One of the biggest and most powerful muscles of the shoulder is the pectoralis major, commonly known as the ‘pecs’ or just the ‘chest muscle’, pictured to the left. It connects the arm (humerus) directly to the middle of the chest. Its main function is to pull the arm toward the chest in an action called adduction.

​Try it: hold your arm out to the side, then bring your arm toward the center, so you end up with your arm pointing forward. As you do this, you will feel your ‘pec’ engage. When you apply this motion to something like a pushup, the arms need to be away from the body, so the pushup motion will be pulling the arm inward toward the chest. Simply put, this means keeping your elbows away from the body. This is the safest way to do any pushup motion.


In contrast, if we start with our arms down by the sides and lift them up until they point forward, this is called flexion.  When we lift the arm like this, the pec doesn’t get activated much, so the work is done by much smaller muscles like the anterior deltoid (the front of the shoulder cap) and the biceps. The biceps cross two joints; they bend the elbow and also flex the shoulder. But they don’t have the power to move the body’s entire weight.

When we do pushups or chaturangas with the elbows close to the sides of the body, we are essentially moving the shoulder in flexion. This is not a powerful nor particularly healthy way to move so much weight. When we do this repeatedly, the bicep tendon (usually the short head at the attachment with the coracoid process of the shoulder blade) will often be damaged. This manifests as pain or soreness in the front of the shoulder.

There is a common belief that keeping the elbows close to the body uses the triceps more than if the elbows were wider. This is not true for the simple reason that the triceps straighten the elbow, and the elbow is doing a similar action in both versions. The big impact is on the shoulder and what muscle group you use when doing a pushup or chaturanga​ motion.

“There is nothing inherently wrong with keeping the elbows close to the body and flexing the shoulder”

There is nothing inherently wrong with keeping the elbows close to the body and flexing the shoulder. The problems arise when we do this with our entire body weight and do it repetitively. This is how injury usually happens. Consider making the elbows wider, which will strengthen the huge pectoralis major muscle as well as be safer for the smaller muscles of the shoulder.  But as well, listen to your body.  If you are tired going into the 5th or 6th round of chaturanga, skip it, go straight to down dog, no judgement, no label, but intelligent sequencing.  I don’t cue a lot of chaturanga’s in my instruction, however, if I give you the option I want to ensure you are doing it correctly and mindfully to avoid injury.

Attached is a video tutorial to help with posturing and using blocks to practice proper alignment for this modern pose.  Enjoy and happy, healthy practicing.