Whether you have lived an active lifestyle or not, you will notice that as you age, the muscles, tendons, and joints that are all a part of the shoulders can begin to experience pain and stiffness. Shoulder discomfort and loss of mobility can happen even if you have never experienced a shoulder injury, and shoulder stretches can help.
I have been training and weightlifting in the gym for over 10 years. Over time I’ve noticed some snapping and popping in my shoulder area that was not there even 5 years ago. There have been times I’ve started on an exercise (like an overhead press) and had to lower the weight or adjust my form because there’s a “hitch” in my shoulder, especially the shoulder on my dominant right arm. Once I realized that this shoulder discomfort was a new part of my normal, I knew I needed to make some adjustments to avoid risking the long-term integrity of my shoulders. It was time to focus a lot more on proper form when I’m lifting things and spend more time on preventive measures that will protect my shoulders and the intricate inner workings of that area.
Warm-Up: Side-To-Side Neck Stretch
Neck stretches can help release tension at the top of the shoulders, so this is a good place to start! Here is a simple neck stretch that is a perfect place to begin.
You can do this stretch either standing or sitting. Every part of this stretch should be slow and controlled. Focus on breathing and releasing tension.
- As you gently turn your head to the left, looking over your left shoulder, you’ll want to stop when you feel the tension on the right side of your neck.
- Hold that position for 20 seconds.
- Return your head to the starting position.
- Repeat the same steps while gently turning your head to the right.
Now that you have warmed up by releasing the tension in your neck, here are 6 simple shoulder stretches you can do that may help increase flexibility, extend your range of motion, and prevent injury.
1. Shoulder Rolls
Shoulder rolls are a great exercise for relieving stress and tension in the shoulders and improving circulation in those joints. They can even help prevent and relieve tension headaches. Keep your arms relaxed, then shrug your shoulders up toward your ears, then up and back. Repeat the circles at least 2 to 4 times.
- Stand (you can also do this while sitting) with feet shoulder-width apart and arms to your sides.
- Rotate shoulders in a forward direction making big circles with them, and then rotate them backward.
- Keep your back straight and your breathing normal.
2. The cross-body shoulder stretch
The cross-body shoulder stretch helps extend the back of the shoulder and targets the rotator cuff muscles. You should feel a good stretch in the rear shoulders. If you play tennis, you’ll benefit greatly from performing this stretch, and it is also great if you do a lot of overhead lifting.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Let your arms hang down by your sides.
- Look forward.
- Tip your head to the right, trying to touch the right ear to the right shoulder.
- Feel the stretch in the left side of your neck and shoulder.
- Tip your head to the left, trying to touch the left ear to the left shoulder.
- Feel the stretch in the right side of the neck and shoulder. Each time, hold the position for 10 seconds.
- Repeat as many times as desired.
3. Shoulder mobility/flexibility test
Don’t worry, no studying required! The goal of the shoulder mobility test is to prevent joint hyperextension. It is also a simple test of upper body flexibility. Take note as to whether you can connect your hands/fingers behind your back. How did you score?
- Excellent = Fingers Overlap
- Good = Fingers Touch
- Average = Fingers are less than two inches apart
- Poor = Fingers are more than 2 inches apart
These ranges of motion are needed in many places in life. If you are missing range of motion, there are several risks, including shoulder pain or impingement, shoulder instability, or having to modify daily activities by avoiding lifting or lifting less weight. Continue to work on this stretch to loosen the muscle tension and increase mobility.
4. Overhead shoulder stretch
The overhead shoulder stretch works with the muscles in the shoulders, back, chest, neck, and arms. It brings various benefits to the body, including posture. The overhead shoulder stretch is also considered a Yoga pose that is a deep stretch of the shoulders. It is a simple, beginner stretch also commonly seen practiced by athletes.
- Stand straight with your shoulders back, chest out, and feet shoulder-width apart.
- Raise one arm overhead, bend the elbow, and place your hand behind your neck.
- With your other hand, grasp your elbow and gently pull it behind your head.
- Hold the stretch.
- Relax and repeat with the opposite arm.
5. Rotator Cuff Stretch
The rotator cuff stretch goes a long way in alleviating pain and discomfort. They are essential for the flexibility of the shoulder, chest, and upper back muscles. Good rotator cuff flexibility allows for unrestricted, pain-free movement of the shoulder and arm.
- Place both arms overhead with palms facing the wall.
- Place both hands on the wall with palms facing forward, above your head.
- Step back from the wall while hands are planted firmly.
- Lower your head and torso and sink into the stretch while your hands remain high overhead.
- Adjust your hand position on the wall so that the stretch is comfortable.
- Hold for 20 seconds.
6. Standing Wall Stretch
The wall stretch can provide quick and effective relief to your shoulders and neck. This is an especially great stretch if you’ve been sitting doing a lot of computer work. Doing the wall stretch can even help wake you up when you hit that afternoon slump.
- Stand facing a wall and place your forearms on the wall about chest high, straight out in line with your shoulders.
- Walk your feet back and make a ninety-degree angle with your body.
- Kick your hips back and place an arch in your lower back. Relax your belly.
- Keep your forearms straight at a ninety-degree angle with your body. Don’t let your arms slide down the wall.
- Breathe deep and hold this position for one minute.
As you make a routine of daily neck and shoulder stretches, you will find that it can reduce tension, relieve pain, increase mobility, reduce the risk of muscle and joint injury, and improve overall posture.
Check out these tools for stretching: