That shoulder and neck pain that creeps up, and then just seems to stick around – it almost feels like a new part of life that we should just accept, doesn’t it? We may crack jokes about “getting older” and not feeling as spry as we once did when we were younger, but the shoulder tension that sets in is in fact extremely bothersome, and could even lead to longer-term repercussions if we’re not careful.
The truth is that it’s easy for shoulder and neck pain to sneak up on us. From working a desk job to driving long commutes, carrying heavy bags to dealing with stress, many of us end up carrying more tension in our shoulders than we realize...every single day. Unsurprisingly, when we begin to layer this tension day upon day and week upon week with no real release, our bodies begin to rebel. While some of the factors contributing to neck pain may be hard to eliminate, the good news is there are simple, effective methods to counteract the repetitive daily stress. In this post, we share some of the best at-home exercises to employ as a means to combat, and eventually banish, shoulder tension for good.
How Poor Posture Affects Shoulder Health
There are many culprits of poor posture, but working for extended periods of time at a desk and spending hours in a car commuting are two of the most common offenders. No matter how many times you tell yourself to sit with good posture, when you’re stuck in these positions for hours on end, your form is bound to break down at some point.
So, what happens when our posture breaks? Our upper backs round a bit, shoulders slump forward, and our chest tightens. As we slouch, more pressure is put through the rotator cuffs in our shoulders. We may begin to develop a dull ache and feelings of stiffness in our shoulders as time accumulates and we begin to feel the effects of an “overuse” injury. Add in the fact that our shoulders have an incredible range of motion but not much stability to support them due to their ball-and-socket structure, and it’s even easier to understand why this area is ripe for injury.
As you look to improve your shoulder and subsequent neck health, there are two main goals to keep in mind: strength and mobility. These are some of the best exercises to mobilize and strengthen this area.
Exercise #1: Holding Proper Posture
This one is just about as it sounds – you should practice holding proper posture. That means engaging your core lightly, sitting or standing up straight with shoulders back and down, with your head in a neutral, forward-gazing position. While we’re aware that this isn’t exactly a brand-new exercise, it is extremely difficult for many people to work perfect posture into their day-to-day routines consistently. If you’re looking to improve posture, try setting alarms 30-45 minutes apart as reminders to re-engage in good posture. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to fall back into old habits and reminders will help you begin to create new, healthier habits.
Exercise #2: Child’s Pose
If you’ve ever done yoga before, you know that child’s pose is a great one for both opening up a tight chest and stretching your shoulders and neck. For child’s pose, you’ll want to start on your hands and knees, with your knees slightly wider than hip-width apart. Keeping your hands on the ground in front of you, shift your weight backward slowly to sit back on your heels (go as far as you can comfortably). Resting your forehead gently on the ground, continue to stretch your arms out in front of you. Hold this pose for 30-60 seconds. Repeat 5-10 times.
Exercise #3: Thread The Needle
For this exercise, you’ll begin on your hands and knees once again. Position your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Gently bend your right elbow, as you slide your left hand under your body and toward your right side. Hold at this ending position for a few seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat this exercise 5 times on each side. This helps to stretch the muscles along the outside of the shoulder.
Exercise #4: Windmill Stretch
The windmill stretch is very beneficial for opening up the chest – an important aspect of strong posture. Begin this exercise laying on your side, with knees bent and stacked at a 90-degree angle, and arms reaching straight out. Keeping your arms straight, lift the top arm up and over your body, reaching all the way to the other side, to form a “T” formation with your arms. Pause at this end position for 5 seconds, before reversing the movement to return to your starting position. Repeat this exercise 5-10 times on one side, before switching to your other side.
Exercise #5: Cross-Body Shoulder Stretch
Stand or sit up straight. Grab one elbow, and pull it across your body, keeping it a bit lower than shoulder height. Hold this gentle stretch for 10-15 seconds, release, and switch to your other side. Repeat this stretch up to 10 times on each side as needed. This exercise targets tight upper back muscles that surround the shoulder socket for support.
Exercise #6: Overhead Shoulder Stretch
This one helps with overhead mobility of the shoulder joint; it also stretches your latissimus dorsi muscle – the large V-shaped muscle that extends from the back of your shoulders and down to your hips. They help stabilize both your spine and shoulders and thus are important for maintaining good posture. Begin this pose by standing or sitting up tall. Bring one arm overhead, bending your elbow and letting your forearm drop behind your head. Place your other arm slightly above your elbow, and gently pull it toward the opposing side. Hold this stretch for about 30 seconds, and repeat it on the other side. Repeat this stretch as needed.
Exercise #7: Door Frame Chest Stretch
This exercise is great for opening up the chest and providing extra mobility through that area. Place your forearms on either side of the doorframe, bent at 90 degrees at shoulder level. Slowly lean or gently lunge forward, allowing the weight of your body to yield a stretch through your chest and the front of the shoulder. Hold the end position for up to 30 seconds and repeat as needed.
Exercise #8: Downward Dog
This exercise is no stranger to any yogis out there! The downward dog pose provides a deep stretch to all of the shoulder muscles, including some of the surrounding back muscles as well. For a downward dog exercise, start on your hands and knees, and then lift your hips up above you, straightening your legs out as you can while keeping your back flat. Hint: most people will still have a slight bend in their knees, and that’s OK! Let your head drop and stay relaxed between your arms. Hold this position for about 30 seconds, and repeat up to 5 times.
Exercise #9: Wall Angels
These are great for shoulder mobility, while also gently strengthening the upper back. Start this exercise by flattening your back against a wall. Bring your arms up on either side at a 90-degree angle, still pressed against the wall. Slowly slide both arms upward, and eventually toward each other overhead, while keeping contact against the wall the entire time. Pause for a few seconds up at the top, before slowly returning to your starting position. Repeat 5-10 times.
How Chiropractic Can Help Shoulder and Neck Tension
Another excellent way to care for your shoulders is by working consistent chiropractic care into your routine. The adjustments of the spine and extremities provided in chiropractic appointments help to realign common misalignments that happen as a result of everyday life, but can wreak havoc when left unaddressed. When the spine is aligned, inflammation and pressure in the body decrease, allowing your entire system to function better, including your upper back and shoulders.
Additionally, your practitioner can help to diagnose any potential underlying issues that may be causing additional shoulder stiffness and discomfort. Through personalized treatment and a conservative care approach, you can be sure that you’re getting to the root of your discomfort in order to heal.
You deserve to move without pain. Prioritize your health now. Schedule an appointment online or call (949) 649-8790.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.