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Combat Shoulder Pain with These Physical Therapist-Recommended Stretches

Shoulder pain is a common complaint among people who seek physical therapy for shoulder pain and can be characterized by tightness, stiffness, and mobility loss—often because of an injury. 

Our physical therapists at Impact Med discuss shoulder pain and some common stretches and exercises that will keep your shoulders in optimal shape.

Shoulder Mechanics

The shoulders are the most flexible joints in the human body. They are highly mobile which allows us to move our arms in many ways. The shoulder is not just a ball and socket joint—it is several joints that work together. Further, it is surrounded by muscles, ligaments, and tendons that make for an extremely strong mobile shoulder. 

Shoulder Pain Causes 

It is no surprise that there are many causes of shoulder pain due to the shoulder’s many moving parts. Here are some of the most common conditions that might cause shoulder pain. 

Shoulder Tendonitis

Shoulder tendonitis is caused by inflammation in one or more of the shoulder’s tendons, most often in the biceps tendon or rotator cuff. Generally, symptoms range from mild to severe pain and can inhibit arm movement, or the ability to move the arm in a certain way. 

Shoulder Bursitis

The bursa is a fluid-filled sac that is found in the shoulder joint. It can become inflamed when there is joint friction caused by a fall or injury or joint surfaces that have changed over time. Shoulder bursitis leads to swelling or warmth in the shoulder and can be quite painful. 

Shoulder Osteoarthritis

Symptoms of osteoarthritis occur gradually and are caused by general wear and tear of the joint over time. Symptoms may start with a stiff feeling in the joint, but as the cartilage and other tissues in the joint break down over time, the pain will greatly increase, and the range of mobility will decrease. 

Rotator Cuff Tear 

The muscles that surround the shoulder joint are called the rotator cuff and help keep the upper arm bone aligned in the socket of the joint. Rotator cuff tears can occur due to overuse, misalignment, or age-related weakening. Large rotator cuff tears often occur from an injury or lifting something too heavy. Generally, a rotator cuff tear causes a dull ache in the shoulder and discomfort when sleeping. 

Stretches and Exercises for Shoulder Pain 

Remember, when stretching or exercising your shoulders, listen to your body’s cues. If you feel any sharp or increased pain, stop the stretch or exercise, and consult with a professional physical therapist from Impact Med. 

Stretch #1: Chest Expansion

People who often work with their arms in front of them can develop a rounded posture that tightens the muscles in the front of the body. It is not uncommon in this case for the front of the shoulder joint to be tight as well. A chest expansion stretch uses a doorway to help stretch the muscles in the front of the shoulder and open the chest. 

  • Find some wall space in a corner of a room
  • Place your elbows to the forearm on the walls at 90° and gently lean your torso forward until you feel a gentle stretch in your chest and shoulder
  • Don’t over-arch your back
  • Hold for at least 30 seconds while breathing deeply 
  • Repeat 2-3 times 

Stretch #2: Side-Lying Rotation 

When the front of the shoulders gets tight, the back muscles can become weak due to the imbalance of activity and use in the front of the body. Shoulder pain can be alleviated by strengthening the back of the shoulder and the external rotators. 

  • Lay on your side and use a pillow to support your head and neck. Keep your elbow at a 90° angle, resting across your abdomen. 
  • Raise your fist slowly toward the ceiling, while keeping the elbow glued to your side
  • Hold for a few seconds at the top
  • Slowly lower down with control
  • Gradually advance this exercise with lightweight dumbbells as you gain strength and mobility

Stretch #3: Neck Release

Several neck muscles connect to the shoulder area, so by keeping the neck loose and aligned, you can help alleviate shoulder pain.

  • Place an arm down by your side, and the opposite hands on the top of your head, just above the ear. 
  • Tilt your head gently away from the hand that is down by your side
  • The hand on your head is meant to guide your head and provide an extra stretch, but only do this slowly and gently
  • Hold the stretch for 45 seconds and then repeat on the other side

Stretch #4: Downward Dog

This popular yoga pose is great to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your shoulders and your back. 

  • Start on your hands and knees
  • Press into your mat with your palms and lift your hips up
  • Keep your knees bent slightly if you need to and distribute the weight between your feet and palms
  • Keep your spine straight and your head pulled towards your feet
  • Allow your shoulders and back to stretch properly out above your head 

Stretch #5: Across the Chest

This is one of the easiest shoulder exercises that you can do. It is used to help maintain and improve flexibility and range of motion in the shoulder joint and muscles. 

  • Bring one arm across your chest
  • Hold in place with the opposite hand
  • Release your arm and repeat on the other side
  • Repeat at least 5-6 times on each side 

Get Shoulder Pain Relief with Impact Med

If shoulder pain is impacting your day-to-day life, come visit our physical therapists at Impact Med Zephyrhills. We offer physical therapy, chiropractic care, and manual therapy to help relieve your shoulder pain. 

We have the skills to help you heal and combat your shoulder pain. Call Impact Med in Zephyrhills today— (813) 706-5156!