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Stretching for Shoulder Range of Motion: A Helpful Proactive Guide for Beginners

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Jan 28, 2023

shoulder range of motion

Shoulder pain and stiffness can be incredibly frustrating to our health and well-being, especially when it limits our shoulder range of motion. I should know, a decade of playing football definitely had my shoulders stiff and in pain the majority of my playing career.

Whether you’re recovering from an injury or just looking to improve your overall flexibility, regularly stretching your shoulders is an effective way to alleviate pain and increase your mobility.


Understanding our shoulders

Before we dive into specific stretches, it’s important to understand the anatomy of our shoulders. Don’t worry, we aren’t taking a trip back to junior-high science class, but it’s relevant to understand the basics of our shoulders and all its different movement patterns and ranges of motion.

Our shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint, meaning the rounded head of our upper arm bone (humerus) fits into the shallow socket of our shoulder blade (scapula). This joint is surrounded by muscles, tendons, and ligaments, all of which work together to allow for proper movement in our shoulders.

When we think of our shoulders, we often think of the muscles that we can see and feel, like the Delts and Traps, but there are also many smaller muscles that play an intricate role in our shoulder movement.

These include our rotator cuff muscles, which help hold the humerus in place, and our scapular muscles, which help control the position of our shoulder blades.


shoulder range of motion


What could be affecting your shoulder range of motion

There are a multitude of factors that can affect our shoulder range of motion. Our shoulders are made up of many different moving parts. They are involved in so many directions of movement throughout our day that we may not even notice. And especially if we’re an athlete, our shoulder-use is almost 3x of a non-athlete. Any issues with just one of these parts can negatively affect our shoulder range of motion.

Some common issues include:



Best stretches to improve shoulder range of motion

Now that we have a basic understanding of how our shoulders move and what could possibly inhibit our mobility, let’s go over some simple stretches that can significantly benefit our shoulder range of motion.


  • Chest Stretch: Stand in a doorway with your arms at a 90-degree angle, placing your hands on the doorframe. Step through the doorway, making sure to keep your arms in the same position. You should feel a stretch in the chest and front of the shoulders. Hold for about 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side. You can perform this for 2-3 sets or till you feel the desired release of tension.
  • Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Sit or stand with your shoulders relaxed and your arms at your sides. Slowly squeeze your shoulder blades together. Imagine you are trying to touch them together in the middle of your back. Hold for 5 seconds, then release. Repeat for 10-15 reps and about 2-3 sets.
  • Shoulder Circles: Stand with your arms extended to the sides, at shoulder height. Slowly make circles with your shoulders, going in both directions. Make sure to keep your arms straight, and move your shoulders, not your elbows. Repeat this exercise for 10-15 reps and about 2-3 sets.
  • Overhead Reach: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms extended straight above your head. Reach up as high as you can, keeping your arms straight, to extend your shoulder range of motion. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side.


shoulder range of motion
  • Downward Dog: Start in a push-up position with your hands and feet on the ground. Slowly lift your hips up, forming an inverted V-shape with your body. Hold for 15-30 seconds, release and repeat for about 2-3 sets.


It’s important to understand that stretching should always be done slowly and gradually. You may feel some pain in certain areas of your body that is really tight, thats ok, as long as the pain is not excruciating.

When practicing these shoulder stretches, always keep your core engaged to allow your shoulders to move more freely in all its ranges of motion.

It’s also necessary to make sure that you warm up your muscles before stretching, by doing some light cardio like jogging in place or jumping jacks. And, as always, be sure to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any new exercise routine.


The wrap up

To wrap things up, stretching for shoulder range of motion is a great way to alleviate pain and improve mobility. By understanding the anatomy of the shoulder and incorporating a few key stretches into your routine, you can help to keep your shoulders healthy and flexible. Remember to start slowly, and never push through pain, and you’ll be on your way to greater flexibility and fewer aches and pains.


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No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other licensed clinician.

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