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10 Stretches to Help Shoulder Pain

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Take a moment to focus on your shoulders. How do they feel? Are they relaxed, sore, tense? Statistics point to the fact that your shoulders likely have some pain or tightness. Thankfully, there are 10 shoulder stretches and exercises you can perform to relieve pain. Besides relieving shoulder pain, these routines help increase your range of motion, improve flexibility, and bring a better sense of comfort to your daily movements.

How to prevent shoulder pain

Before we dive into shoulder stretches, exercises, and tips on how to perform them, it’s beneficial to know how to prevent shoulder pain in the first place.

A simple way to prevent shoulder tension and pain is to practice good posture. Avoid slouching, hunching over while standing, sitting, and going about your daily activities.

Pay attention to the way you carry yourself throughout the day. Are there any adjustments you can make to put your body at ease?

Rest when you need it from physical activity. If you play sports that cause shoulder pain, or lift weights, make sure you’re using proper form and technique.

Shoulder stretch and exercise tips

These stretches should be performed three to six times per week for the best results. Try to incorporate all stretches into a 10 minute routine, and gradually add time as you get stronger and increase your range of motion. 

When going through your routine, relax yourself and ease tension in your shoulders and anywhere else you feel tension. Perform these exercises as your comfortable; don’t push yourself and stop the routine if the pain becomes more than mildly uncomfortable. 

1. Across-the-chest stretch

The across-the-chest stretch aides in flexibility and range of motion in the shoulder joint and surrounding motions. If you feel pain in your shoulder while performing this exercise, lower your arm.

Bring your right arm across your chest. Place the arm in the crease of your left elbow or use your left hand to support your arm.

Hold for 60 seconds. Repeat with your left arm. Perform this exercise 3 – 5 times per side.

2. Neck release

The neck release is easy to perform and gently removes tension in your shoulders as well as your neck. 

Begin by lowering your chin toward your chest. Gently move your head to the left and you’ll feel the stretch in your right shoulder. Hold this position for 60 seconds. 

Repeat on the opposite side. Perform the neck release three to five times

If you’d like to deepen this stretch, place one hand on your shoulder and the other on your ear to guide the stretch. 

3. Chest expansion

If you’re looking to increase the flexibility and range of motion in your shoulders, the chest expansion is a great stretch. 

You’ll need an exercise band, strap, or towel. Hold it behind your back with both hands. Push your chest outward as you draw your shoulder blades toward one another. 

Lift your chin and look upwards, holding for 30 seconds. Repeat three to five times. As you progress, and if you’d like to deepen the stretch, place your hands closer together on the strap or towel.

4. Eagle arms spinal rolls

The eagle arm spinal roll stretches the shoulder muscles. If you experience discomfort, you can perform the exercise by holding opposite shoulders.

Begin by sitting down and extend your arms out to the sides. Cross your elbows in front of yourself with the right arm on top of the other. 

Bend your elbows, placing the backs of your forearms and hands together. Reach the right hand around, bringing the palms together. Hold for 15 seconds.

As you exhale, roll your spine as the elbows come toward the chest. On the inhale, lift your arms. Continue these movements for 60 seconds. 

Finally, repeat on the opposite side.

5. Seated twist

An exercise most are familiar with, the seated twist stretches the shoulders and neck. Be sure to keep hips facing forward and start the twist in the lower back.

While seated, position your ankles directly under the knees. Twist your upper body to the right, bringing the back of your left hand to your thigh. Place your other hand wherever it’s comfortable. Hold for 30 seconds.

Repeat on the left side. Do the seated twist three to five times.

6. Shoulder circles

Shoulder circles are a good stretch to warm up the shoulders before exercising as well as increasing flexibility. 

Stand with your left hand on the back of a chair. Allow your right hand to hang down. Circle the right hand five times in one direction, then the other. 

Repeat with the opposite shoulder. For best results, perform shoulder circles two to three times per day. 

7. Doorway shoulder stretch

The doorway shoulder stretch opens up the chest and aides in strengthening the shoulders.

Stand in a doorway with your elbow and arm forming a 90-degree angle. Step your right foot forward while you press your palm into the side of the door frame. Lean forward, engage your core, and hold for 30 seconds.

Repeat with your opposite side. Perform two to three times.

8. Downward dog pose

Downward dog helps to strengthen and stretch the muscles in your shoulders and back. 

Begin by getting on the floor on your hands and knees. Press your hands into the floor to lift your hips toward the ceiling.

Keep a slight bend in your knees as you press your weight evenly into your hands and feet. Keep your spine straight, bring your head toward your feet so that your shoulders are flexed overhead. 

Hold for 60 seconds. 

9. Child’s pose

Child’s pose is great for relieving tension in not just your shoulders, but your back and neck as well. A cushion can be placed under your forehead, chest, or legs for added support.

From downward dog, bring your big toes together and your knees slightly wider than your hips. Then sink your hips back onto your heels while extending your arms out in front of you.

Let your chest fall toward the floor and focus on relaxing your shoulders and spine. Stay in this pose for at least 60 seconds, and up to five minutes.

10. Thread the needle

Our last stretch on the list, threading the needle helps ease tightness in your chest, upper back, and shoulders. 

Start with your hands and knees on the floor. Lift your right hand up toward the ceiling with your palm facing away from your body. Lower your arm to bring it under your chest and over to the left side of your body, palm facing up.

Keep your left hand on the floor for support, lift toward the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds. Relax in child’s pose and then repeat on the left side. 

If these stretches fail to ease your shoulder pain, a virtual physical therapy appointment can help. An Agile Virtual Care PT will prescribe a personalized course of care for your specific shoulder pain. Request an appointment today to get started!