Reach, Push, Lift, Rotate: Why Shoulder Stretches Rock

Key Points

  • Shoulder stretches play a crucial role in maintaining shoulder health.

  • Shoulder joints are complex and multi-functional; they help facilitate compound movements related to physical fitness and daily activities.

  • Incorporating shoulder stretches into your physical fitness routine improves the function, strength, and mobility needed for a healthy life.

Your shoulders are one of the body's most intricate and possibly underappreciated joints. With parts uniquely designed and relatively unstable, even minor architectural changes significantly impact shoulder function and lead to many issues. Knowing how to properly perform shoulder stretches is critical to protecting their health and function.

Solid, sturdy shoulders allow you to reach, push, lift, pull, and rotate through workouts and daily chores efficiently and without pain. Poor shoulder health leads to discomfort, limited mobility, and a decreased quality of life. Using shoulder stretches as part of your regular exercise, good posture, and preventive measures are essential to maintaining optimal shoulder health.

Exercises and daily activities become easier and more efficient as you improve your physical fitness.

The Importance of Healthy Shoulders

You know that old saying, "You don't know what you have until it's gone." Many who trod the path of physical and nutritional neglect will eventually realize — hopefully not too late — that health should not be taken for granted.

The aging process is brutal on both body and mind. Counteracting that with healthy lifestyle habits like working out and stretching for flexibility keeps you healthier for longer.

Healthy, mobile, flexible shoulder joints benefit you and your overall health.

Greater Range of Motion

Flexible shoulders allow you to move your arms freely in all directions. You efficiently perform activities that require pushing, reaching, and rotating. You improve sports performance, exercise routines, and something as simple as putting away groceries.

Reduced Risk of Injury

You prevent injuries like strains, sprains, and dislocation with healthy, stable shoulders. Strong muscles such as the rotator cuff and scapular stabilizers support and protect this joint from excess stress during physical activity.

Better Posture

Flexible shoulders provide you with better posture, allowing for proper alignment of the ribcage and spine. You look better and feel more confident with good posture. It also reduces the risk of developing musculoskeletal issues like neck pain, back pain, and poor spinal alignment.

Your mother was right: "Don't slouch!"

Improved Function

It's best to have mobile shoulders to perform everyday tasks like lifting objects, performing workouts, and doing household chores. Healthy shoulder joints and muscles facilitate smooth movements and reduce discomfort, making daily activities easier and pain-free.

Man with shoulder pain

Optimized Fitness Performance

Flexible shoulders are crucial for all fitness activities. Regardless of your chosen activity — weightlifting, Pilates, yoga, or cardio — healthy shoulders encourage proper form and technique. You maximize performance, avoid compensatory movement, and reduce your risk of overuse injuries commonly found in this joint.

Better Quality of Life

A healthy body contributes to a better quality of life. It improves your ability to participate in physical activities, reduces pain and discomfort, and promotes more efficient movement. You have fewer limitations holding you back from achieving your goals and dreams.

Anatomy of the Shoulder

Most people don't realize the complexity and intricacies of this marvelous upper-body workhorse. Phrases like "shoulder your burden" and "the weight of the world is on your shoulders" are a testament to the value that humanity has attached to them.

Shoulders are complex and hard-working joints that facilitate a wide range of movement and motion. The main components of the shoulder include:


Your humerus, funnily enough, is the long bone of the upper arm that forms part of your ball-and-socket mechanism with the shoulder blade. It includes several anatomical features:

  • Head

  • Greater tubercle

  • Lesser tubercle

  • Anatomical neck

All of these play an important role in shoulder movement and mobility.


The scapula is a triangular, flat bone on the back of your ribcage. Various parts of the scapula serve as attachment points for muscles and ligaments vital to shoulder motion.


The clavicle, or collarbone, is a slender, long bone connecting the breastbone to the acromion point of the scapula, forming a joint called the acromioclavicular joint. Classical music fans appreciate that a "well-tempered clavicle" provides stability and support to the shoulder joint.

Glenoid Labrum

Your impressive glenoid labrum is a ring of fibrous cartilage that lines the rim of the glenoid fossa, deepening your ball-and-socket mechanism. It holds the humeral head securely in this socket and prevents injury as you bend, twist, and perform your daily activities.

Rotator Cuff Muscles

The rotator cuff is a group of four strong muscles, including the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. They originate from the scapula and attach to your humerus.

These muscles work together to provide strength, stability, and efficient shoulder movement.


Bursae are tiny, fluid-filled sacs between tendons, bones, and muscles to reduce friction and allow for smoother movement. Several bursae are nestled in the shoulder; all make movement more comfortable and efficient.


Ligaments are tissues connecting bones and providing stability to joints. Examples of shoulder ligaments include the glenohumeral, coracoacromial, acromioclavicular, and coracohumeral tissues. This is only part of the list of complex tissues working together to make your life easier.

In thinking about protecting and preserving shoulder health, addressing some common injuries and issues and how best to prevent them is necessary.

Common Shoulder Injuries and Prevention

If you're wincing when reaching overhead, struggling to put on a T-shirt, or tossing and turning at night due to shoulder pain, you already know the pain of injury or dysfunction that makes even the simplest tasks difficult.

No one is immune from the possibility of developing shoulder pain. Young children and adults are more susceptible to shoulder injuries when playing sports or participating in extracurricular activities. Older adults experience shoulder and arm pain due to age-related issues such as arthritis.

The shoulders are vulnerable to injuries that cause pain and reduced mobility. Damage or long-term dysfunction leads to chronic shoulder issues.

The National Institute of Health reports that almost 25 percent of people experience one or more shoulder injuries.

Adhesive Capsulitis

Adhesive capsulitis, also known as "frozen shoulder," is a progressive range of motion loss following an infection, injury, or illness affecting the shoulder area. A frozen shoulder takes six months to two years to heal correctly with adequate care.


Arthritis is the painful wearing down of the joint cartilage in the shoulder, causing excruciating bone-on-bone rubbing and irritation. Taking steps to reduce inflammation while improving mobility quite often improves symptoms of arthritis.


Bursitis is a condition affecting the bursae, fluid-filled sacs that cushion various tissues in the shoulder. Overuse, trauma, and infection can all cause the bursae to become inflamed, causing swelling and tenderness in the entire shoulder.

Woman with painful shoulder


The humeral head, located inside the central socket of the shoulder joint (glenoid fossa), sometimes becomes wholly or partially dislocated due to significant trauma. Even if you pop the humeral head back into place, the shoulder will likely be unstable and injury-prone without proper treatment and therapy for healing.

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

Inflammation of tendons occurs due to excess friction or pressure. As bones rub together, you feel pain and swelling that hinder mobility. Acute or chronic trauma to the shoulder area causes small tears in the muscle fibers of your rotator cuff.


SLAP tears are a specific type of shoulder injury that affects the labrum, a ring of cartilage that surrounds the shoulder joint socket. The acronym stands for superior (top) labrum anterior (front) to posterior (rear).

Typically caused by trauma or overhead repetitive motions, the SLAP tear symptoms include pain, weakness, instability, and even clicking sensations in the shoulder. It can also reduce your range of motion.

Torn Cartilage

A tear in cartilage causes painful symptoms like reduced strength and restricted range of motion. You have pain when performing specific movements.

Physical therapy and rest are essential for healing.

Strains and Sprains

Strains occur when muscles or tendons are excessively stretched and torn. A sprain refers to ligaments that extend beyond their capacity. Both conditions cause persistent pain and discomfort, hindering physical activities and daily routines.

While mild conditions improve with ice and rest periods, more severe cases necessitate therapeutic interventions for proper healing.

The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Pain

Acute (sudden) shoulder pain is common due to a traumatic event in sports, personal and work-related injuries, or motor vehicle accidents. Doctors classify shoulder pain as chronic (over time) if it persists for more than six months.

Various conditions like arthritis, rotator cuff tears, and frozen shoulder manifest as acute or chronic pain. Both acute and chronic shoulder pain benefit from physical therapy exercises as part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program to restore shoulder health.

Keeping Shoulders Healthy

Taking simple steps to keep your shoulders healthy and strong makes you feel better and improves the efficiency and function of your whole body. You can add a few things to your daily and weekly regime to boost your health.

Practice Good Posture

Maintaining good posture reduces strain on your shoulders and promotes proper alignment of the shoulder joints. Avoid rounding and slouching shoulders forward, particularly during prolonged sitting or computer use.

Get Regular Exercise

Regular exercise strengthens the muscles around your shoulders, providing additional stability and support to your joints. Incorporate activities that target the rotator cuff muscles and exercises that improve upper body strength and flexibility.

Shoulder and back muscles

Use Proper Lifting Technique

Use your legs and not your shoulders when lifting heavy objects. Avoid lifting objects and weights that are too heavy for you. Never be afraid to ask for help when needed.

Take Breaks During Repetitive Activities

If you engage in repetitive activities like typing or overhead movements, take regular breaks to avoid overloading the shoulder joints. Changing positions and periodically stretching reduces strain on all parts of your body.

Practice Proper Sleeping Positions

Sleeping in positions that reduce excessive strain on your shoulders aids the healing and rest processes necessary for good shoulder health.

Warm Up Before and Stretch After

Before physical activity, warm up your shoulders and other muscle groups with gentle movements, preparing them for activity while reducing your risk of injury. Stretch out muscles when they are still warm at the end of a workout. This improves mobility and circulation to shoulder tissues, improving their health and efficient movement.

Why Stretching Is Important

Stretching is an integral part of any comprehensive fitness protocol. 

Professional skateboarder Nyjah Huston says, "Stretching always helps me start my day in a good way."

Keeping these joints in good condition is even more critical for the shoulders because they carry you through so many activities. There are several benefits to regularly stretching the shoulder joint.

Increased Flexibility

You need shoulder flexibility to maintain range of motion and ensure proper body movement. Efficient shoulder flexibility allows you to perform daily living activities, participate in sports, and easily complete exercise routines.

Prevention of Injuries

Regular stretching prevents injuries by improving the efficient function of muscles, tendons, and bones. All this efficient movement reduces your risk of tears and other shoulder-related injuries.

Increased flexibility also creates more stability, distributing force evenly across your shoulder during physical activity.

Performance Enhancement

Proper shoulder flexibility enhances performance in sports and other physical activities. Increased movement improves technique and performance in swinging, throwing, and lifting activities.

Whether participating in sports or carrying groceries in from the car, all movements involving shoulders are more efficient with a flexible shoulder.

Pain Relief

Stretching in the shoulders relieves muscle tension and stiffness, contributing to shoulder pain. Even with minor injuries and discomfort, stretching and movement are necessary to lubricate tissues and promote healing from within.

Man in gym with painful shoulder

Stress Relief

Incorporating a variety of stretches into your shoulder routine reduces stress and promotes healthy relaxation by releasing muscle tension and improving blood flow. This reduction in stress and "letting go" of the emotional and physical weight you carry positively impact your health and well-being.

Getting Down to Business!

You realize the benefits of promoting strength and flexibility in your shoulders. Like most people, you carry tension in this part of your body daily. Stretching is the icing on the fitness cake.

Caring for your joints and muscles after working out with luxurious stretches is ideal for promoting healing, renewal, and strength. Incorporate these stretches into your weekly workout routine, and pick a few to perform daily to keep everything moving smoothly.

Standing Arm Swings

The standing arm swing is a dynamic exercise that promotes efficient circulation to the shoulders. Use this exercise in your warm-up routine to improve range-of-motion and flexibility before performing upper body exercises.

Stand upright with your arms relaxed by your sides to perform the standing arm swing. Activate your core muscles and swing your arms forward, aiming to raise them as high as possible without elevating your shoulders. Return your arms to their initial position and repeat the movement.

Perform this exercise for 60 seconds, alternating or lifting both arms simultaneously.

Shoulder Pass-Through

The shoulder pass-through is a great way to enhance joint mobility while engaging all muscle groups surrounding the shoulders. The result is a tight, toned upper body that begs for sleeveless fashions.

To perform the shoulder pass-through, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms extended in front of your body. Hold a long stick, such as a PVC pipe or broomstick, with an overhand grip. Ensure your arms are positioned wider than shoulder-width apart, and the stick is parallel to the floor. Engage your core muscles and slowly raise the stick overhead, maintaining a straight arm. Extend the stick above and behind your head as far as it comfortably goes, then return to a starting position.

Repeat this hyper-extended swing at least five times.

Banded Shoulder Rotations

The banded shoulder rotation is a kicked-up version of the pass-through exercise. Using a resistance band in your hands allows for a full-range extension of the pose to your lower back and then back to a starting position.

To perform the banded shoulder rotation, start by kneeling on a mat while maintaining a straight torso. Hold a resistance band before you, gripping it almost twice as wide as your shoulders. With arms extended and straight, raise them up and over your head. Perform a complete rotation, moving the band behind your back and down toward your buttocks. Return to a starting position, ensuring your arms remain straight through the exercise.

Perform 5 to 10 reps for strength and flexibility.

Crab Stretch

The crab stretch is a very effective exercise for enhancing anterior deltoid mobility. It is a valuable addition to your post-gym shoulder stretching routine due to its yoga-like benefits.

To perform the crab stretch, begin by sitting on a mat. Place your feet flat on the ground in front of you and position your hands flat on the mat with your fingers pointing forward. Lift your buttocks off the mat, fully extending your arms. Avoid locking your elbows. Push your hips and chest upwards to feel a stretch across the front of the shoulders. Hold the stretch for a few seconds before slowly lowering back to a seated position.

Perform five times, holding for a few more seconds at the top of the pose each time you lift.

Cross-Arm Stretch

The cross-arm stretch targets the rotator cuff muscles, providing a delicious spread to the posterior shoulder.

To perform the cross-arm stretch, stand with your feet slightly narrower than shoulder-width apart, and raise your right arm to a position just below shoulder height. Place your left hand on your right elbow and gently pull your right arm across your body, using the left hand to support the arm. Hold this position for up to 45 seconds, feeling the stretch in your rear shoulder and side of the arm.

Repeat the stretch three times on each side.

Shoulder cross-arm stretch

Sleeper Stretch

The sleeper stretch is most effective at improving the internal rotation of the shoulder, making it a popular choice for those with shoulder injuries or undergoing rehabilitation. 

To stretch the shoulder, lie on your affected side, ensuring your shoulder is stacked underneath you. Extend your affected arm straight out from your shoulder and bend the arm so that your fingers point toward the ceiling. Using your unaffected arm, gently guide your affected arm toward the floor until you feel a stretch at the back of your shoulder.

Hold this position for 30 seconds, then repeat the full extension three times before switching to your other side.

Doorway Stretch

The doorway stretch affects shoulder and chest muscles, making it ideal for addressing weakness and imbalances between the left and right sides.

Stand in a doorway with your elbows and arms forming a 90-degree angle while keeping your feet in a split stance. Bring your right arm to shoulder height and place your palm and forearm on the doorway. Gently lean into the stretch, going only as far as it is comfortable. Hold for thirty seconds, then switch sides.

Perform this two or three times on each side.

Child's Pose

Child's pose, a well-known yoga pose, is beneficial for opening the shoulder joints into flexion and stretching the latissimus dorsi (lats). It also provides relief for tight lower back muscles.

To perform a child's pose, kneel on an exercise mat, ensuring your body is upright. Slowly crawl your hands forward, extending your arms before you while keeping your gaze downward. Lower your torso onto your thighs and rest your forehead on the ground.

Hold this position while taking three to five slow, deep breaths.

Child's pose to stretch shoulder

An Essential Piece of the Fitness Puzzle

Regarding total shoulder health, you must incorporate stretching as part of a health and wellness program. Shoulders play a vital role in your daily activities and physical performance.

You achieve a healthier, more active, pain-free lifestyle by prioritizing static and dynamic stretching as part of your fitness routine. Don't underestimate the power of a long stretch session — your shoulders will thank you!

For more tips and advice on all things related to wellness, check out FitnessCorner. Happy stretching!

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