About the Shoulders – Shoulder Function
As the old adage goes, at times it can feel like we carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Tight, painful shoulders are common, which is no surprise. The human shoulder has the greatest range of motion in the body, making it susceptible to injury.
The bones of the shoulder joint consist of the humerus (upper arm bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and clavicle (collarbone). Moreover, the shoulders are linked to various upper body parts: the neck, the upper back, the chest, the rib-cage and the arms.
Shoulder Tightness & Pain
Common complaints about shoulders, upper back and chest tend to be connected to tight muscles and muscle spasms in the neck, shoulder and upper back muscles. Interestingly, tightness felt in these muscles is usually a result of initial tightness in the opposing muscles – for example, tight muscles in the upper chest can cause tightness felt in the upper back. It’s all interlinked.
Problems in the shoulders can be due to tension in the neck and upper back, certain sleeping positions, being sat at a computer for long hours, or hunched shoulders to name a few.
Shoulder Flexibility & Mobility
One way to prevent or alleviate muscle tightness is to stretch the anterior shoulder and chest muscles. Performing regular stretching exercises can help loosen and lengthen muscles. The potential benefits are an increase in flexibility and reduction in stiffness, improvement in mobility and greater range of motion and hopefully, some pain relief!
How to Stretch your Shoulders
Be sure to warm-up your shoulders before stretching. Perform some rotations clockwise and anti-clockwise, from small to large and back to small circles.
Here are some shoulder stretching exercises you can perform as and when needed, whether you’re at home or at the gym, before a workout or after a workout:
1. Shoulder Adductor, Protractor and Elevator Stretch
Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Bring your left arm across the front of your body and with your right hand, grab hold of your left elbow.
With your right hand, try to pull your left elbow down and around the right side of your body.
Repeat with right arm.
Targets upper back and shoulder.
2. One-Arm Shoulder Flexor Stretch
Stand (or sit on a backless chair) upright with your left arm behind your back and your elbow bent at about 90 degrees.
Grasp your left elbow with your right hand. Pull your left arm across your back and up toward your right shoulder.
Repeat with right arm.
Note, if you cannot reach the elbow then grasp the wrist, keeping your elbow locked at a near 90-degree angle.
Targets upper back, shoulder, upper arm and chest.
3. Shoulder Adductor and Extensor Stretch
Stand in a squatting position while facing a doorway or pole you can latch onto, with your right arm aligned with it.
Grab the inside of the doorjamb/outside of the pole at shoulder level with your right hand.
While keeping your right arm straight and the feet firmly planted, lower your buttocks toward the floor.
Repeat with left arm.
Targets back, rib-cage, shoulder and upper arm.
4. Seated Shoulder Flexor, Depressor, Retractor Stretch
Sit on the floor with your legs straight.
While keeping your arms straight, place your palms (with the fingers pointed backward) on the floor about one foot (30 cm) behind your hips.
While keeping your arms straight, lean backward toward the floor.
Note – to maximise the stretch, keep your arms straight. If you find it difficult to refrain from bending your arms, place your hands closer to your hips. Moving your hands farther from your hips can increase the stretch.
Targets shoulder, back and chest.
Hold stretches for 5 slow, deep breaths and repeat 3 times.