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10 Of The Best Shoulder Stretches For Pain & Tightness

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10 Of The Best Shoulder Stretches For Pain & Tightness
Shoulder Stretches

With so many of us working desk jobs, spending hours on our phones, carrying bags (or children!) and having less than perfect posture, it’s no surprise shoulder pain or tightness in your neck and shoulders has become a common issue. If you have a regular workout routine and have been neglecting your stretches, you also might notice muscle tension building in this area.

Although shoulder pain is common, there are some great stretches you can do to ease the discomfort and improve shoulder mobility. While some require a bit of floor space at home or in the gym, others are easy enough to perform wherever you are!

Stretches For Shoulder Pain

What causes shoulder pain?

Your shoulder girdle is made up of your collarbone (clavicle), upper arm bone (humerus) and shoulder blade (scapula), and there are a number of factors that can cause shoulder pain or tightness. 

Your shoulders are often one of the first areas to experience pain if you’re stressed and find your shoulders are creeping up towards your ears, if you’re working out a lot, are often lifting heavy items, pets or children, or are rundown in general. 

Strain and stress aren’t the only reasons you might be experiencing shoulder pain - these muscles can also become tight and sore from spending hours at a desk, looking down at your phone or having poor posture for most of the day. 

Shoulder pain isn’t just a source of frustration, it can also lead to headaches, impaired mobility and increase your risk of injury if the pain starts to affect your ability to perform exercises with correct form or lift and carry things safely. 

No matter what the reason is for your shoulder pain (or even if you’re not experiencing any at all!), making shoulder stretches a regular part of your routine is a great way to take care of your body, improve your posture and decrease or prevent pain and stiffness in your upper body. Adding a few of these stretches into your post-workout cool-down is an easy way to do this!  

You’ll find some stretches will feel more beneficial than others, depending on which parts of your body are holding tension, so experiment and find out what feels good!

If you’ve been experiencing shoulder pain and stretches aren’t making a difference or the pain is getting worse, it’s always best to see your physician for advice.

Standing shoulder stretches

Because these shoulder stretches don’t require much space or any fancy equipment, they’re easy to perform wherever you are! From the lounge to the office to the park, or even standing around at the airport - get ready to feel that shoulder tension melt away.

Deltoid stretch

Deltoid Stretch

Stretches like this can help loosen your deltoid muscle, which is the muscle that sits at the upper part of your arm and the top of your shoulder.

  1. Stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bring your right arm across your body and pull it in towards you using your left arm while keeping your shoulders down.
  3. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  4. Repeat with your left arm.

Neck flexion and extension stretch

Neck Flexion And Extension Stretch
  1. With your arms by your sides or on your hips, stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Gently lower your chin towards your chest. 
  3. Gently lift your head to return to starting position, then slowly tilt your head backwards until your gaze is looking at the ceiling. 
  4. Continue moving your head up and down, slowly and with control, for 30 seconds.

 Neck lateral flexion stretch

Neck Lateral Flexion Stretch
  1. With your arms by your sides or on your hips, stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Gently lower your head to the right side to bring your right ear towards your right shoulder.
  3. Lift your head back to the centre, then repeat on the other side, bringing your left ear towards your left shoulder. 
  4. Continue alternating between the right and left sides for 30 seconds.

Hand clasp behind back

Hand Clasp Behind Back
  1. With your arms by your sides, stand with your feet slightly further than shoulder-width apart.
  2. Gently reach your arms behind your back and clasp both hands together. 
  3. Gently pull your shoulders back until you feel a chest-opening stretch. 
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds, breathing deeply throughout.

Shoulder rotation

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a wooden dowel or broomstick with both hands in front of your legs with an overhand wide grip (palms facing towards your body).
  2. Keeping your arms straight, slowly raise the wooden dowel forwards and upwards above your head. Gently draw your shoulder blades together to lower the dowel behind your back, ensuring that your arms remain straight for the entire movement. It’s important that you also engage your core to support your lower back.
  3. Raise the dowel up overhead, then slowly lower your arms in front of you to return to the starting position, keeping your arms straight and using your abdominals to support your lower back. 
  4. Repeat for 8-12 reps.

Arm swings

  1. With your arms by your sides, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Gently swing both arms forwards and across your body, making a criss-cross motion with your arms, then backwards as far behind you as feels comfortable.
  3. Continue swinging your arms forwards and backwards for the specified number of repetitions or amount of time.

Anterior deltoid stretch

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides.
  2. Bend your left elbow and bring your left hand to the back of your neck. 
  3. Lift your right arm out to the right side, bend your elbow, and bring your right arm up the middle of your back as if you were trying to reach your hands together.
  4. If you have the flexibility, hold your hands together behind your back and hold for a few seconds as you breathe deeply.
  5. Gently release your arms before repeating on the other side.

Floor shoulder stretches

These stretches are best performed on a yoga mat or carpeted floor, whether you’re at home, in the gym or outdoors. They’re also a great way to warm up for your workout or cool down afterwards! 

Thread the needle

Thread The Needle Stretch
  1. Start on all fours on a yoga mat with your knees below your hips and your hands below your shoulders.
  2. Release your left hand, extend it through the space underneath your right arm, and lower your left shoulder to the mat. 
  3. Keep your right arm extended above your head, resting your head on the mat. Draw your shoulder blades down and back and focus on pushing your chest towards the mat for a deeper stretch.
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds, breathing deeply throughout.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Wide child’s pose

Stretches For Shoulder Pain
  1. Start on all fours with your shoulders stacked over your hands and your hips over your knees, toes untucked.
  2. Draw your toes together and widen your knees, before lowering your hips back towards your heels and your torso towards the mat. 
  3. Extend your arms above your head with your hands flat on the mat, resting your head on the mat between your arms. Create space between your shoulders and ears by drawing your shoulder blades down and back, or pushing your chest towards the mat for a deeper stretch. 
  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds, continuously breathing in and out through your nose.

Cat cow

  1. Start on all fours on a yoga mat with your knees below your hips, your hands below your shoulders and your spine in a neutral position. 
  2. Lift your chin and allow your belly to sink towards the floor, forming an arch with your back. Create space between your shoulders and ears by drawing your shoulder blades down and back. This is your cow position.
  3. Press your hands and knees into the mat, draw your chin to your chest and draw your stomach in to curl your spine. This is your cat position. 
  4. Gently alternate between cat and cow.

Get stretching!

By making time for regular stretching (as well as foam rolling!) and focusing on good posture, you should be able to alleviate some of those common shoulder aches or feelings of tightness.

If shoulder stiffness or discomfort is something you often experience and you want a little more relief than what stretches can offer, regular massages can also help!

While these 10 stretches can help ease mild shoulder pain and stiffness, see your healthcare provider if you feel sharp pain in your shoulders or neck, if it hurts to perform any of these stretches, if your pain lasts for more than a few days, or if you experience significant shoulder pain during exercise. 

Strengthening your shoulders is just as important as stretching them, so if you’re looking for a shoulder workout, we’ve got you covered with this one from Kelsey Wells.

* Disclaimer: This blog post is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. The above information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or medical condition. Please consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet, sleep methods, daily activity, or fitness routine. Sweat assumes no responsibility for any personal injury or damage sustained by any recommendations, opinions, or advice given in this article.

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