Protect Your Shoulders with Stretching and Massage



Joint injuries may be chronic, the kind that develop over time due to wear and tear, bad posture or repetitive movements. Or, they may be acute, which happens quickly, oftentimes resulting from a fall, a blow to the shoulder or lifting too much weight at one time.


Strengthening the muscles that support your joints and keeping them limber with stretching will help stabilize your joints and decrease your risk for injuries. Begin any new exercise program slowly or your joints may feel worse afterwards. And, if you have an injury or chronic pain, talk to your orthopedist first prior to starting a new exercise program.


Tightness around the shoulder combined with weakness in the muscles that support the shoulder can lead to overcompensation, pain and trigger points (tender areas where the muscle has been overworked). Stretching, massaging and strengthening can help to increase range of motion and decrease pain.




Front Crossover Pulls
Keep your right arm straight and gently pull it across your body with your left arm until you feel a gentle stretch in your shoulder. Hold this for 10 seconds and then repeat with the other arm. Try two to three sets for each arm.


Cat Camel
Lay down with your knees, feet and hands touching an exercise mat or on carpet. Your wrists should be directly underneath your shoulders and butt directly over your knees. While gently exhaling arch like a cat so your spine is pushing upwards toward the ceiling and your head is tucked down toward your chest. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds and then move your body in the opposite direction with your belly sinking towards the floor and head reaching up and back. Pull your shoulder blades in towards your spine. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds before beginning the upward phase.


Refer to Cat Camel Picture at:


Reach and Roll
Lay on your right side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and arms extended out from your body and on top of one another. Now move your right hand along your left arm and across your body as you reach out and open your ribcage completely.


Thread the Needle
Start on all fours by kneeling with your butt over your knees and hands out in front of you with shoulders directly above your hands. Exhale and rotate the left side of your trunk from the waist upwards (without arching back), sliding your left hand along the floor with palm up and arm straight until your left hand is to the right of your right hand. Your shoulders should not lift toward the ears while rotating.


Overhead stretch
Sit down on the floor on top of your heels and lean forward while keeping your butt close to your heals and your face close to the ground. Now reach out in front of you and you should feel a stretch in your shoulders.


You can also turn this move into a strengthening exercise by pointing your thumbs up and reaching up with your right arm while your thumb points toward the ceiling. Hold this for one to two seconds and then bring your right arm down and reach up with your left arm. Alternate each arm for 2 sets of 10 on each side. If you are just starting, you may want to do just 1 set per side.


Sleeper stretch
Lie on your right side with your head propped up on a pillow with your right elbow flexed at 90° so your fingers are straight up reaching toward the ceiling. Now place your left hand on top of your right hand and gently push your right forearm down. You should feel this stretch in the back of your shoulder. Hold it for 5 – 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times on each side.


Posterior Stretch
Hold a towel behind your back with your left elbow bent slightly and your left hand in the air and right hand behind your back. Now gently walk your right fingers up your back while gently pulling the towel up with your left hand. You should feel this stretch in your right shoulder. Repeat 2-3 times on each side.


Front & Back Stretch
Bend your left arm at the elbow and reach over your right shoulder with your left hand. Place right hand on your left elbow gently push it back.

To start the back stretch, lift your left arm up in the air, bend your elbow and reach your left hand down the right side of your back. Place your right hand on your left elbow and gently push it down. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds, repeat with the other arm and do 2 to 3 sets per arm.



Use a Lacrosse or Tennis Ball 


Infraspinatus and Teres Minor
Anyone who sits for hours, has rounded shoulders, or poor posture can benefit from massaging the muscles that support the shoulder. While standing with your back to a wall, place the ball between your body and the wall on the area just outside of the shoulder blade and roll around on the ball to massage your muscles. This can also be done while laying down on the ground though the addition of body weight on top of the ball means the massage will be much harder and potentially too hard for some people.


Chest Muscles
Our chest muscles (pec major and minor) can become very tight when we sit for hours and rounded shoulders. This can lead it to pain in the shoulder that can sometimes radiate down the arm, and decreased range of motion.

Human musculature, computer artwork.                         A human model showing the pectoralis minor muscle.

PEC MAJOR                                       PEC MINOR

Stand close to a wall and place a tennis ball on your pec major or pec minor and against the wall (this can also be done while lying on the floor). Move around slowly so the ball hits the entire area including right next to your armpit and just above that area. If this area is tight you should feel it release as you massage.



Anatomical model showing the trapezius muscles.
Tight trapezius muscles contribute to shoulder pain, neck pain and headaches. You can massage your traps by rolling on a lacrosse or tennis ball on the wall or lying on your back with the ball beneath you and rolling around on the floor. If you have tender areas (trigger points) on the part of your traps to the side of your neck, you can release these by standing in front of an open doorway, bending at your hips so your upper torso and head are in line and at a 45% angle. Place the ball on top of your shoulders near your neck and roll around on the ball with small motions.


Levator Scapulae
Your levator scapulae holds rotates your head and tilts it from side to side. Poor posture and holding a phone between your cheek and your shoulder can lead to tightness and pain. When this muscle is tight you may find it difficult to touch your chin to your chest, fully rotate your head from side to side (you should be able to turn your head 90 degrees to the left and right) or bend your neck so your head tilts about 45 degrees over each shoulder. In addition to impairing range of motion, tightness can lead to headaches.

Marie Levator Scapulae

Stretch the levator scapulae by sitting on a chair with feet spread widely apart and flat on the ground. Place your left hand behind your head and grasp the chair with your right hand. Rotate your head 45 degrees to the left and gently pull your head toward your left knee. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, relax for 10 seconds and then perform the same motion while actively resisting the movement by pushing your head back into your hand (this should help you get a deeper stretch the next time). Relax and perform this sequence 2-3 times per side.


You can massage this muscle by standing with your back to a wall and placing the lacrosse or tennis ball at the top of your shoulder underneath your neck. Roll the ball around in small movements. When you hit trigger points, you may feel pain radiating into your neck and shoulders.


For shoulder strengthening exercises, click here 


PHOTO CREDIT (musculature images) : CORBIS IMAGES