If you’ve experienced shoulder tightness, discomfort, or pain, you know how frustrating it can be to do just about anything that requires you to lift your arms. Whether you’re trying to power through reps of overhead presses or simply striving to put away groceries up on a high shelf, your load-bearing movements can be cut short by issues with the sometimes delicate joints.
Your shoulder struggles might not even come from lifting big weights overhead in the gym or a specific traumatic event. “The shoulder joint is one of the more complex joints in the human body,” Rachel Tavel, DPT, CSCS previously wrote for Men’s Health. “When the mechanics are off, pain can be a result. Formed by the humerus, scapula, and clavicle, multiple muscles help move these bones in a rhythm to allow for pain-free functional use of the arm. Unfortunately due to poor posture and muscle weakness, sometimes this sequence of movement is off and one or more important structures can become inflamed.”
If you’re experiencing persistent pain, you should take the time to search out the opinion of a medical professional. But if your discomfort is more of the nagging variety, Daniel Giordano, DPT, C.S.C.S. of Bespoke Treatments has a solution. Here, he shares his five favorite moves to ease that shoulder pain, discomfort, and pressure. “We’re going to work areas above and below the joint and all around the joint, so we take pressure off of that joint so you can optimize your shoulder health,” says Giordano. You’ll mobilize, stabilize, and stretch those muscles to help promote proper joint function.
Watch Giordano and GHOST gym founder Aqib Mamoon demonstrate the five shoulder stretches.
What Can Cause Shoulder Pain
- Poor mechanics
- Poor posture
- Weak muscles
- Acute causes (injury)
According to Tavel, shoulder pain can stem from a range of causes. Poor movement mechanics, bad posture, and muscular weakness can all be to blame—along with more obvious acute causes like trauma.
Benefits of Stretching Your Shoulders
- Alleviate pain, soreness, and tightness in shoulder movement
- Improve range of motion
- Promote proper joint function
5 Shoulder Stretches for Pain Relief
Giordano starts the five-move sequence with thoracic or mid-back mobility.
- Start on your hands and knees, then put one hand on the back of your head.
- Rotate up and down towards the other hand, then up to the ceiling. Be sure to follow your elbow with your eyes and tuck your bottom rib under to ensure full rotation.
- Do five to eight reps to loosen your mid-back rotation on each side.
“If that is restricted, it can cause restrictions in your shoulder. If this mid-back isn’t getting full range of motion or not moving properly, you actually may have a lack of range of motion at the shoulder,” says Giordano. “So let’s make sure that we’re getting through these to increase mobility of your mid-back and to take pressure off of that shoulder joint.”
This pectoral stretch targets the anterior aspect of the shoulder.
- On your hands and knees, extend your right arm out to the side, lock the left hand into the ground and then come down and turn your whole body to the left side. That will creating a stretch anteriorly through the pec, and also through your biceps.
- Come back up, and then repeat back down.
- Do five to eight reps on each side.
This move is designed to “[temporarily] increase the range of motion to try to get some more blood flow and circulation back to this area and to take pressure off that bicep, which attaches at that shoulder joint and also that pec muscle for your chest to open up,” says Giordano. “The more rounded we are, the more pinching that may occur in the shoulder, which could increase tension in the shoulder itself.” FYI: If you feel this move down through the bicep and into the forearm, that indicates you’ve got tightness all the way up that group of muscles—so make sure to go through the whole position and then back up.
- Get into child’s pose with your arms extended out front, palms flat on the ground, and fully drop back into the position.
- Pull one hand in towards the chest, then shift your other arm out to that side, extending it out in front of your body with your palm on the floor. Do five to eight stretches on each side.
“That lat muscle is an internal rotator of that shoulder, and if it’s too tight, it can actually rotate you in a little,” says Giordano. “So we want to make sure that it’s loose and more mobile, so we’re getting that stretch and opening up the shoulder as well.”
Posterior Capsule Stretch
Stay on your hands and knees to focus on the posterior capsule of the shoulder.
- From a quadruped position, take the right hand and reach through the body ,firmly planting the back of the palm on the ground.
- Slightly lean your weight into your right side. This is where the rotator cuff muscles are running through.
- Do five to eight of these on each side.
“And if we have too much pressure in that posterior capsule, it may cause some pressure into the shoulder joint, hence increasing tension in that shoulder,” says Giordano. “So this can help relieve the pressure on the posterior aspect of the back side of the shoulder blade.”
Mini Band External Rotation
Last up is a shoulder stability exercise.
- Use mini bands and wrap them around your wrists. Make sure you always keep tension on the band.
- Push your shoulder blades back, squeezing them, and keeping your elbows tight at your side as you move your hands apart.
- Retract your shoulder blades and repeat five to eight times.
“We mobilized, we stretched, and then we stabilized,” says Giordano, adding that these moves will optimize your shoulder health to take pressure off your shoulders, “so that you can do everything you want in the weight room and out of the weight room in your daily life.”
Perri is a New York City-born-and-based writer; she holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Columbia University and is also a culinary school graduate of the plant-based Natural Gourmet Institute, which is now the Natural Gourmet Center at Institute Of Culinary Education. Her work has appeared in the New York Post, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, Oprah Daily, Insider.com, Architectural Digest, Southern Living, and more. She’s probably seen Dave Matthews Band in your hometown, and she’ll never turn down a bloody mary. Learn more at VeganWhenSober.com.