The Best Stretches for Shoulder Pain

In this article, we review the most effective stretches and exercises for the shoulder. They can help with shoulder pain and strengthen the joint to prevent future problems.

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Juhi Modi Medical Writer
Medically reviewed by 

The shoulder is a major joint that connects the arm to the torso. It is one of the most complex and versatile joints in the human body. You use it to carry groceries, scratch your back, lift a toddler, and pitch a baseball. It’s a ball and socket joint that is formed by the humerus (upper arm bone) and scapula (shoulder blade).

One of the most remarkable features of the shoulder joint is its stability. The stability of the joint is made possible by several structures that surround the shoulder. One of these structures is the rotator cuff. It is a collection of tendons and muscles that support the shoulder. These muscles allow the arm to move in many directions.1 The shoulder joint has impressive strength, stability, and range of movement. Still, because of its complexity, it is vulnerable to injury.

Several different shoulder conditions can cause pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Fortunately, you don’t have to live with a painful or stiff shoulder. Exercises can reduce pain and stretch the joint. You can regain lost movement. In this guide, we review some of the most effective shoulder stretches and exercises.

Shoulder anatomy

These can be done at home to improve strength and flexibility and prevent injuries. They can also help with symptoms such as shoulder pain and stiffness. Remember to consult a healthcare provider if your symptoms are severe or do not get better with home treatments.

Common reasons why your shoulder feels sore/painful

As noted, many conditions can lead to pain, soreness, and stiffness in the shoulder. Some of the most common causes of shoulder symptoms are listed below:

Frozen shoulder: The medical name for this condition is adhesive capsulitis. It is scarring and inflammation of the shoulder capsule. The shoulder capsule is a ligament that surrounds and stabilizes the joint.2 Symptoms can include pain and restricted movement.

Rotator cuff tear: As the name suggests, this is a tear in one of the tendons or muscles of the rotator cuff. It can be the result of long-term overuse or a sudden injury.1

Arthritis: Osteoarthritis is an age-related degeneration. It can occur in the shoulder due to the wear-and-tear of the joint over time.1 Rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disorder (the body’s immune system attacks the joints). It can affect any joint in the body, including the shoulder.

Shoulder impingement: This occurs when the edge of the shoulder blade intrudes on the rotator cuff muscles. Typically it happens while lifting the arm.1 It can lead to injury or inflammation of the rotator cuff, causing pain.

Tendonitis: There are several tendons in the rotator cuff that can become inflamed. Symptoms include pain, tenderness, and swelling.1

Bursitis: A bursa is a tiny sac of fluid that allows smooth movement between various structures in a joint. Shoulder bursitis is a condition in which a bursa in the shoulder becomes inflamed. The symptoms include pain, especially in the outer arm and with overhead activities.1

Labral tear: This is a tear in the cartilage (labrum) that lines the shoulder joint. It usually does not require surgery.1

Shoulder dislocation: This occurs when the humerus (upper arm bone) slips out of its normal position. There is pain and a popping sensation when the arm is raised.1

Exercises are an effective non-surgical treatment for many shoulder conditions.1 A regular stretching and exercise program can strengthen the shoulder muscles and improve joint flexibility. The Injurymap app offers a personalized exercise plan that can treat your shoulder pain.

What are the best exercises and stretches for painful shoulders?

    The shoulders are powerful and have unmatched mobility. They are one of the most frequently used groups of muscles in the body. We use the shoulders to push, pull, lift, press, and reach. That’s why it’s crucial to strengthen the shoulders by doing regular exercises. Here are some of the best shoulder exercises you can do at home.

  1. Posterior shoulder capsule stretch (sleeper's stretch)
    30 sec. x 3 sets

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    This is a cross-body shoulder stretch that is performed standing up. Keep the feet hip-width apart. Grasp one elbow with the opposite hand and pull the arm to the opposite side, across the body so that the palm faces the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times on each side. The exercise targets the back of the shoulder and provides a good stretch to the rotator cuff muscles.

    • Lean on the injured shoulder.
    • Let your arm fall down towards the ground and put pressure on the arm with your opposing hand.
    • Hold the position for 30 seconds then change to the opposite side.
    • Perform 3 repetitions on each side.
  2. Shoulder raises with exercise band I
    8 reps x 3 sets

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    • Stand up.
    • Tie two low resistance exercise bands together and put one exercise band around the foot and hold on to the other exercise band.
    • Keep your arm close to your body and lift your arm up and out so that the exercise band tightens.
    • The arm should end up in a position where it is in direct line with the shoulder and is approximately 30 degrees away from the body.
    • Then take the arm down again.
    • Perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions with each arm.
  3. Lying shoulder strengthening exercise II
    10 reps

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    • Lay down on your stomach with a pillow under your forehead.
    • Lift your arms well above your head in a 140 degrees angle.
    • Slowly lift your arms from the ground and hold the position for 10 seconds.
    • Perform 10 repetitions.
  4. Supraspinatus stretch
    30 sec. x 3 sets

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    • Stand up with your hands together behind your back.
    • Pull the shoulder blades together, then pull one arm slightly upwards using the other arm until you reach a point where you can feel the stretch.
    • Hold the position for 30 seconds and then switch to the other arm.
    • Perform 3 repetitions on each arm with a small break between each repetition.
  5. Lattissimus dorsi stretch
    30 sec. x 3 sets

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    • Stand with your arms over your head.
    • Grab one of your elbows with the hand of the opposite arm.
    • Lift your arms and push the elbow backwards as far as possible, and slightly towards the other shoulder.
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and perform 3 repetitions with each arm.

Red flags and things to consider if you have shoulder pain

Minor shoulder pain and stiffness can often be relieved by pain medicine, rest, ice, and exercises. But, in certain situations, it’s important to see a doctor.

Shoulder pain accompanied by chest tightness and difficulty breathing can be a symptom of a heart attack. Seek immediate medical attention if you have these symptoms.8 You should also see a healthcare professional if:

  • You have suffered an injury and the shoulder joint appears visibly deformed.
  • You have intense pain and/or sudden swelling.
  • You are unable to use the joint or move the arm.

When is it time to see a doctor about your shoulder pain?

Make an appointment with a doctor if your shoulder pain is accompanied by symptoms such as redness, swelling, and tenderness. It’s also recommended to see a physician if the shoulder pain shows no sign of improvement after two weeks of home treatment.

Prevention and avoiding future shoulder pain

Whether you’re reaching for something on the top shelf, swinging a tennis racket, or shampooing your hair, you can’t do it without using your shoulder joint. This powerful joint and surrounding muscles are used in a lot of repetitive motions in daily life. That’s why when your shoulder muscles lack strength and flexibility, you can set yourself up for injury. Here are some things you can do to prevent shoulder pain and injury:9,10

  • Warm-up before you exercise with gentle shoulder stretches. Move the arms up and down, from side to side, and in circles. This will put the shoulders through their entire range of motion.
  • Ease into a new workout regimen and build up your endurance by gradually increasing the frequency and intensity of exercises.
  • Strengthen the muscles that support and stabilize the shoulder joint.
  • Cross-train with a variety of workouts. Some sports, such as swimming, involve repetitive movements that can be taxing on the shoulders. Alternate your swimming with running, for example, to reduce stress on the shoulders.
  • If your occupation involves repetitive, overhead movements (for example, if you’re a construction worker or painter), try to interrupt the repetitive movements with other tasks.

The Injurymap app has a range of shoulder stretches and exercises to strengthen the muscles and make the joint more flexible. The app is easy to use and demonstrates the correct technique and posture so you can do the exercises at home. If you’re not sure if the Injurymap app is right for you, use the 14-day free trial to test it out.

Stretching and exercising are critical to keep the shoulders strong and mobile and prevent injury. The IM app makes it easy to do shoulder exercises at home. You can build strength and flexibility and say goodbye to shoulder pain and stiffness.

Treat your pain with Injurymap

Download the app to get a customized program that addresses your specific pain with exercises.

References:


  1. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/picture-of-the-shoulder#1 

  2. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/frozen-shoulder 

  3. https://www.livestrong.com/article/426180-what-muscles-do-dumbbell-lateral-raises-work/ 

  4. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/exercise-library/249/prone-scapular-shoulder-stabilization-series-i-y-t-w-o-formation/ 

  5. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324647#cow-face-pose 

  6. https://www.athletico.com/2015/01/06/cow-face-arms/ 

  7. https://www.openfit.com/shoulder-workouts-at-home 

  8. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/shoulder-pain/basics/when-to-see-doctor/sym-20050696 

  9. https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/shoulder-pain-heres-what-you-can-do-to-treat-it-and-prevent-it 

  10. https://www.sports-health.com/blog/6-tips-prevent-shoulder-pain