The work day is over. Your shoulders already feel stiff and tense. Sigh – you have a 45-min long commute in front of you. You roll your shoulders and feel relief, albeit this relief is short-lived. You need more than that to feel better. Shoulder stretches would be great, don’t you think?
According to Cools et al., nearly 60% of the general population has experienced neck or shoulder pain at some point in life. If you’re part of that 60%, perhaps you struggle with getting through the workday while fighting pain and stiffness. Even worse, you might have trouble sleeping at night because you are so uncomfortable.
Today we’ll cover my 10 favorite shoulder stretches. I expect them to be super-helpful esp. if sitting a lot and poor posture habits is the source of your shoulder tension and shoulder mobility issues.
Why do my shoulders hurt?
Injury, over-straining, and sitting in front of the computer all day with poor posture can contribute to shoulder pain.
The neck and shoulder area is a very complex system of bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Inflexibility or injury to any part of this region can cause pain and injury.
With that said, if you suspect an injury of any kind, do not try these shoulder stretches! Instead, seek help from a medical professional to ensure you don’t do further damage from self-treatment. I mean, the last thing you want is making matters worse because you didn’t know what you were doing.
Now if sitting a lot or poor posture is the culprit for your shoulder tension, keep reading. According to Cools in the British Journal of Sports Medicine: “Although there is a lack in the literature, tension of the levator scapulae is often seen in relation to poor posture and stress. Only a few studies have examined the effect of stretching the levator scapulae on signs and symptoms in patients with shoulder or neck pain.”
In other words, while we have seen a connection between poor posture, stress, and upper back/shoulder tension, there’s a lack of studying exactly how shoulder stretches help. So caution is warranted; if you try these and feel relief, then awesome, if not, back off.
How do I stretch my shoulder blades?
Use any of the 10 shoulder stretches below. If it’s a static stretch (i.e., you take a position and hold it), then hold the stretch for at least 10 seconds and then release. The longer your hold it the more you’ll “relax into the stretch” and the more you’ll allow it to work with your body.
10 shoulder & upper back stretches you can do at the office.
This sequence will only take you about 5-10 minutes out of your day. If you’re at the office, do it on a break, over your lunch, or during a mid-afternoon slump. Most of these you can do at your desk chair, except for the last two stretches which are best done at home or at the office gym.
#1: Shoulder Shrug
Stand or sit with back straight. Raise the top of your shoulders until they reach your ears. Hold for a few seconds. Then relax shoulder downward.
#2: Shoulder Stretch
Bring one arm across your body, and gently press against your upper arm above your elbow towards your chest. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds, and then repeat on the other side.
#3: Neck Stretch
Sit or stand with back straight. Lean head on on one side with your ear approaching your shoulder. Slowly rotate your neck. Repeat for other side.
#4: Office Stretch
Sit or stand straight. Hold the back of your head with your hands with your fingers interlaced. Pull your shoulder blades together to create tension in your upper back and shoulders. Hold this position for a few seconds.
#5: Tricep Stretch
Stand or sit with your back straight. Slightly bend your knees if you are standing. Bend one elbow and put your arm behind your head. Hold your elbow with other hand. Push your elbow to the back to stretch your shoulder and tricep i.e. the back of your upper arm. Repeat for other side
#6: Extended Arms Stretch
Stand or sit with your back straight. Extend your arms overhead and cross your palms while you push your arms to the back. Hold the stretch for a few seconds. Switch hand position and stretch again.
#7: Computer Stretch II
Stand or sit straight. Extend your arms in front of you at shoulder-height. Catch one wrist with one arm and gently pull to the opposite direction. Feel the stretch in between your shoulder blades. Repeat for other arms.
#8: Chest Stretch
Stand or sit with your back straight. Pull your shoulder blades back as you swim and interlace your fingers at the back. Feel the stretch on your chest.
#9: Back Chair Stretch
With feet pointed straight ahead knees slightly bent place your hands on the top of a chair or a cabinet and let your upperbody drop down. Your hips should be directly above your feet. If you want place your hands at different heights to change the area of the stretch.
#10: Cat Cow Stretch
Begin on all-fours with knees below hips and palms below shoulders. Back is straight. Arch your upper back as you drop your head forward. Then arch your back towards the floor and lift your head. Return to the original straight-back position.
Shoulder Stretches: Final Tips & Further Resources.
- If you don’t have time to do the entire sequence I’ve shown you today, narrow it down to your favorites.
- Mix and match every other day to give yourself some variety. You’ll look forward to it through your day.
- Want more office stretches? I also have a full office stretching exercise routine you can do at work to energize you during the work day.
- Poor posture can also lead to kyphosis of the upper back and lordosis of the lumbar area, which can in turn be part of a domino effect to people that already suffer with back and shoulder pain. If you’re suffering from kyphosis check out these kyphosis exercises or this 5-min stiff back routine to work with these muscle imbalances.
- If you enjoyed these and want even more stretching routines, check out my favorite leg and thigh stretches, my favorite hip flexor stretch, and this leg flexibility routine if flexibility is your goal!
Which of these office shoulder stretches helped you feel the most relief? Leave a comment below, and share your favorites!
Ann M J Cools, Filip Struyf, Kristof De Mey, Annelies Maenhout, Birgit Castelein, Barbara Cagnie. Rehabilitation of scapular dyskinesis: from the office worker to the elite overhead athlete. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Volume 48, Issue 8. 18 May 2013.