Shoulder pain is a common complaint with many potential causes. Reason for pain could include:

  • Tension and stress
  • Rotator cuff injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Bursitis
  • Shoulder impingement or instability
  • Other issues

Shoulder stretches and muscle strengthening exercises are important components of an overall treatment plan for most of these conditions.

While stretching and strengthening can help, it’s essential that you see a specialist too. You can successfully manage shoulder tension with exercise, but if you have an injury or condition, you’ll need an evaluation, diagnosis, and professional treatment.

Stretches for Shoulder Pain Relief

A young woman stretches her shoulder by pulling her arm across her chest.

Some of the simplest shoulder pain relief exercises are gentle stretches. Stretching is great for relieving tension and dropping stress from the body. Stretching improves the range of motion in muscles and joints. Stretches combined with strength training can prevent further injury and reduce post-workout soreness. For shoulder pain, try these stretches:

  • Arm crossover. With shoulders relaxed, pull your left arm to the right across your chest. Grip it with the right arm and gently pull it to get a good stretch. Repeat on the other side.
  • Towel stretch. You’ll need a small towel to assist with this stretch. Hold the towel vertically behind your back, with one hand at each end of it. Pull up on the towel with your upper hand to feel a stretch in the opposite shoulder. Repeat on the other side.
  • Shoulder rolls. To relieve pain from tension, roll your shoulders forward, up, and back to make a complete circle. Do several cycles forward, then reverse the motion and do backward circles.
  • Chest expansion. This stretch opens the chest and improves the shoulder range of motion. Stand and grip a small towel, holding it horizontally behind your back. Your arms should be pointing straight down. Lift your arms up until you feel a stretch through your shoulders and chest.

Stretching is low-risk for most people, but it’s possible to overdo it. Follow these guidelines for safe shoulder stretching as you implement a routine:

  • Start slowly, especially if you’re new to stretching. Warm up the muscles for a few minutes before you begin. Rotate your shoulders, march in place while swinging your arms, and rotate your core gently.
  • Stretching shouldn’t be painful, just a little uncomfortable. Stretch until you feel some tension, not until you feel pain.
  • Don’t forget to breathe while stretching. Breath naturally and comfortably.
  • The stretching movement should be smooth, not bouncing or erratic. Get to the point of tension and then hold it.
  • Practice stretching daily for the best results.

Shoulder Strengthening Exercises

For optimal pain management, combine stretching with exercises that strengthen the muscles in and around the shoulder joint. Stronger muscles stabilize the joint and help it move properly to prevent injuries, improve mobility, and reduce pain. Try these simple exercises to build strength and mobility:

  • Pendulum swings. Lean forward with your right hand on a table or other surface. Let your left hand hang down. Swing it back and forth, side to side, and in circles. Repeat with the right arm.
  • Arm circles. Standing with your shoulders relaxed, raise your arms to the sides until they are straight and parallel with the floor. Rotate the shoulders to make small circles forward then backward. Increase the range of motion, making larger circles.
  • Standing row. Attach a resistance band to a doorknob or another stable object. Facing the attachment point, grip the band with your right hand and with your elbow bent at your side. Pull your elbow back. Repeat with the other arm.
  • Internal rotation. Hold onto the secured resistance band with your left hand while standing with your left side to the door. Your elbow should be bent at 90 degrees and your arm should be against your side. Rotate your hand toward your stomach. Turn around and repeat with the right arm.
  • External rotation. Stand with your left side toward the door and hold the band in your right arm, shoulder bent, arm against your body. Rotate your arm outward and away from your body. Turn around and repeat the exercise with your left arm.

These are fairly easy exercises if you don’t use too much resistance. You can progress to more challenging exercises by using a band with a higher resistance, or with light weights.

When is it Time to See a Shoulder Specialist?

Stretching and exercising should always be a part of your normal routine for optimal health and wellness. However, there is a limit to what they can do to relieve your pain. An orthopedic joint specialist will examine your shoulder and use advanced diagnostics to find the underlying source of the pain.

They can then recommend more detailed physical therapy exercises for shoulder pain, rest, bracing, medications, and other non-surgical solutions. If you need surgery, an orthopedist can provide options, including arthroscopic surgery. Watch this short video to learn more about how EmergeOrtho’s joint specialists use this minimally-invasive surgery to correct shoulder problems with less recovery time.

If your pain is severe, doesn’t subside with rest or gentle stretching and exercise, and is significantly impacting your ability to function normally, it’s time to see a specialist. Request an appointment online to see one of our shoulder orthopedists, or call us any time at 984.279.3662.

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