Shoulder Exercises

We often see a lot of patients who come into the practice with shoulder discomfort. The cause of the shoulder pain is usually be multifactorial. The most common reasons for shoulder pain (not related to specific trauma or underlying medical condition) are as follows:

  • Related to stress and tension (over stimulated nervous system).
  • Poor posture/ergonomic office set up.
  • Referral from the neck.
  • Poor integration and Imbalance of spinal curves – thoracic (upper back) restrictions and decreased mobility.
  • Upper rib restrictions and muscular tension – from upper rib breathing and not diaphragmatic breathing (asthmatic patients).
  • Shoulder girdle imbalance – assess the clavicular joint.
  • Imbalance and weakness of rotator cuff muscles which surround and support the G/H joint. Combined overuse of muscles which internally rotate the shoulder bringing the shoulder forward and compressing the humerus in its joint capsule – leading to shoulder impingement.

Please note – If you are currently struggling with shoulder discomfort it is important to discuss your symptoms with a medical professional so you can be given specific advice tailored to you.

Some of the exercises below are not suited or may need to be adapted for people with hypermobility or certain medical conditions. Carry out each exercise rep 3-5 times (gradually increase 5-10 reps), hold the stretches for 3-5 seconds. Please stop at any time if you find these aggravate your symptoms or cause pain.

If you would like any more advice on your aches or pain/injuries please get in touch and we can discuss a tailored management and exercise plan to suit your needs.

Please see below for my top exercises to promote healthy shoulder mobility.

Diaphragmatic Breathing Sitting/Lying

Place one hand on your stomach, and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in, and push your belly (and your hand) outwards. Try and keep the movement of your chest to a minimum, so you concentrate on the deep breathing. Relax your neck and shoulders as you breathe. This will help you to use your diaphragm, the main inspiratory muscle. Diaphragmatic Breathing will help calm the nervous system, release muscular tension and decease stress.

Rest Position/Childs Pose Stretch

Kneel down on the mat, and rest your buttocks on your heels. As you keep your buttocks on your heels, roll forwards and slide your arms forward creating a gentle stretch and lengthening in your back. This will help stretch out your back muscles and ribs (specifically the latissimus dorsi and intercostal muscles). To add more of a stretch to the latissimus dorsi have your palms facing each other with your thumbs pointing upwards. You should feel a pull alog your ribs and under the armpit. Breath into the stretch.

Cat and Cow Stretch

Kneel on all fours on the mat. Place your hands directly underneath your shoulders, with your knees beneath your hips. Lengthen your arms, but avoid locking your elbows. Keep your abdominal muscles contracted. As you exhale, tilt your pelvis backwards allowing your lower back to round. As you inhale, lengthen your spine and tilt your pelvis forward, allowing your back to arch slightly. A neutral position is neither tucked nor arched. Do not allow your head to drop below the level of your spine.

Sitting Thoracic Rotation and Spinal Twists

Sit upright on a chair, with your feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms over your shoulders. Twist to one side keeping your head and hips still. Repeat to the opposite side. This exercise is a great mobility exercise for the spine.

Option 2: Thoracic Articulation

Sit upright on a chair with feet flat on the floor. Place hands on thighs and slide hands forward and backwards slowly in opposite directions. You should feel a gentle swaying movement along the spine and rib cage. You can practice deep breathing whilst doing this to relax shoulders and open up your rib cage further.

Pendulum Swings

Lean over holding on to a chair or table, let your arm hang down by your side, and swing your arm gently in circles. Try to let momentum and gravity move your arm. Go anti-clockwise and clockwise. This exercise is a great way to passively mobilise a stiff shoulder.

Option 2: Active Pendulum Swings

Leaning forwards, let both arms hang by your side. Gently move your arms just a few inches away from each other before returning to the start position. As you get more confident you can keep increasing the distance between your arms until you can lift your arms to the horizontal. This is an active mobility exercise for your shoulders.

Pectoral Stretch

Bend your elbow 90 degrees, and rest your forearm against a door frame or wall, with your fingers pointing towards the ceiling. Lean forwards creating a stretch across your upper arm, front shoulder and slightly into your chest. This exercise stretches the pectoral muscle.

Scapular (Shoulder Blade) Placement

Sit in a comfortable position. Glide your shoulder blades gently down and inwards to the spine, to allow your collar bone and chest to widen (Imagine your collar bones smiling and lengthening). Do not squeeze your shoulder blades together.

Shoulder Drops

Adopt the supine start position. Inhale as you bring both arms up towards the ceiling. To start the movement, exhale as you bring your shoulder blades off the floor reaching your arms towards the ceiling. Inhale as you release your shoulder blades back down, repeating the movement up and down. To finish the exercise, exhale as you float your arms back down to the floor to finish.

Open Book

Lie on your side, with your bottom leg straight, and your top leg resting on two pillows to keep your leg in alignment with your pelvis. Place your arms and hands together. Slowly rotate your upper back as you open your arms and shoulders as far as feels comfortable. Your bottom arm remains on the floor. As you open your arms, you follow your hand with your eyes. You should feel a stretch to your upper back, chest and shoulder.

Dumb Waiter with Band

Hold an exercise band in your hands. Tuck your elbows in, keeping them bent at 90 degrees next to your body. Place your palms face up. Move your arms outwards to create a stretch in the exercise band. At the same time, contract your shoulder blade muscles, drawing your shoulder blades towards the midline of the back. This is a mobility exercise for your shoulder.

External Rotation with Band

Tuck your elbow in, keeping it next to your body, and move your arm outwards away from your stomach, using the band for resistance. This is an important strengthening exercise for the rotator cuff shoulder muscles.

Rolled Up Towel on Chair

Place a rolled-up towel length ways along spine whilst sitting on a supportive chair. This help you to maintain a good posture, open up the chest and prevent slouching. Try it for 10-20 mins at a time. Useful for to prevent slouching when sitting at the desk.

Sleeping Position

Lying on your comfortable side (i.e. the non-affected shoulder), place a folded pillow under your sore arm. You can also place a pillow behind your back to help alert you if you try to turn over on to your bad shoulder in the night.

Other 'Upper Limb' Toolkits

You may be interested in our other ‘Upper Limb’ chapters within the Exercise Toolkit: