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5 stretches to relieve shoulder tension and pain

5 stretches to relieve shoulder tension and pain

5 stretches to relieve shoulder tension and pain


The problem of shoulder tension

Shoulder aches are a common malady in both people who spend all day sitting at a desk and in those who spend the day engaged in physical labor.  Tension from the day’s activities gets built up in the muscles around the neck and between the shoulder blades.  Shoulder strain can develop from a number of causes, such as:

  • Stress
  • Clenching the shoulders
  • Overuse
  • Poor posture
  • Sitting for prolonged periods of time
  • Sleeping in the wrong position
  • Injuries

This results in stiffness and pain not just in the shoulders but in surrounding areas, including:

  • Head and neck
  • Back
  • Upper body

On top of being highly uncomfortable, shoulder aches and tension can get in the way of performing everyday activities like driving, gardening, or doing housework.


The solution!

Routine is important for keeping your muscles loose and strong.  Keeping flexible not only can reduce muscle pain but can also prevent injuries from happening down the line.  Fortunately, stretches for shoulders are fairly simple and easy to do on a regular basis.

Here are five easy stretches that you can start doing to help limber up your shoulder muscles:


  1. Shoulder raises/rolls

These are especially handy since they can be done either standing or sitting. Here’s how to do them:

  • Make sure you have a straight spine, and maintain this good posture throughout the stretches
  • For raises, slowly elevate your shoulders towards your ears. Hold at the top for a few seconds.
  • Slowly lower your shoulders to their normal position. Repeat these five times.
  • For shoulder rolls, slowly move your shoulders in a circular motion: up, back, then down.
  • Do these ten times, then reverse direction: up, forward, then back down, ten more times.

  1. Ear to shoulder

This is another very simple stretch that can be done seated or standing.  Ear to shoulder stretches help with the muscles along the top of your shoulders, which can cause neck pain when tight.

  • Sit or stand tall with your head, neck, and spine straight
  • Gently tilt your head toward one shoulder
  • Stretch your head to the side as far as you can without straining or lifting your opposite shoulder
  • Use your same-side hand to gently tug your head down farther, deepening the stretch
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then release
  • Repeat in the opposite direction

  1. Chin retraction

This is a good stretch especially for folks who spend a long time sitting at a desk.  Does your head tend to lean forward while you work, either writing or on the computer?  Chronic poor posture like this can lead to some long-term back problems.  Perhaps you’ve seen elderly people with a large lump at the base of their neck on their upper back?  That can result from tilting your head forward for long periods of time without correcting your posture, and can cause pain and back issues.  Fortunately, there’s a stretch for that! This stretch can also be done while standing or sitting

  • Align your head, neck, and spine in a straight line
  • Extend your chin as far in front of you as you are able without it hurting or straining
  • Pull your chin straight backward into your throat and neck
  • Return your chin and neck to their normal positions
  • Repeat everything ten times

  1. Cross arm stretch

This stretch is a great way to work your deltoids, the muscles in the back of your shoulders.

  • Stand with your head, neck, shoulders, and spine in alignment
  • Bring one arm across the front of your body, about mid-chest height
  • Support your crossed arm just above the elbow with either the hand or the elbow crook of your opposite arm
  • Stretch the shoulder of your crossed arm forward, while avoiding rotating the rest of your body
  • Use your opposite arm to gently stretch your crossed arm inward and to the side until you feel a mild stretch
  • Hold this for 30 seconds, then release
  • Repeat with your opposite arm

  1. Wide-legged standing forward bend

This stretch is a great chest opener and works the front of the shoulders.

  • Start in a standing position with your feet placed wider apart than hip distance
  • Clasp your hands behind your back and pull them down and backward, rolling your shoulders back
  • Hinge at your hips and fold forward, maintaining a slight bend in your knees
  • Raise your hands and arms over your head and toward the floor
  • Allow your head to hang down while tucking your chin slightly
  • Hold for one minute

With these simple exercises, you can help keep your shoulders relaxed and healthy all through the work day!

Our experienced & caring physical therapists at Blue Hills Sport & Spine Rehabilitation can create a personalized treatment plan for your shoulder pain. Give us a call today.