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The Best Stretches for Tight, Sore Shoulders

shoulder stretch

 Stocksy

At this very moment, take note of what your shoulders are doing. Are they rounded forward toward your computer screen? Or are they held back and down in perfect posture? If you’re anything like us, chances are they’re in the first position. 

Many common positions and situations we frequently find ourselves in can cause tight, stiff shoulders. When we’re working at our desk, for instance, our shoulders often round, our back hunches, and our neck juts forward. 

“When this happens, the muscles in and around our shoulders shorten,” explains Angelo Grinceri, a functional wellness consultant and P.volve Master Instructor. “Shorter muscles mean less range of motion, which can cause that feeling of tightness in our shoulders that so many of us experience.” 

That feeling of “tight shoulders” also translates to our trapezius muscles, which are the triangle-shaped muscles on either side of your neck and shoulders, notes Sam Ostwald, DanceBody Master Instructor. (She jokingly nicknames her clients with tight shoulders “Trap Queens.”)

Other common causes of tight shoulders include staring down at our phones (again, guilty as charged), as well as chronic stress and anxiety. “When we’re stressed, we often clench our jaws and increase tension throughout our neck,” Grinceri explains. “This causes the muscles throughout our neck, traps, and shoulders to tighten and shorten, further limiting the range of motion of the shoulder.” 

A final unlikely culprit is dehydration. When we’re dehydrated, our muscles also become dehydrated which can cause them to shorten and remain tight throughout the day, Grinceri notes. 

Luckily, some simple lifestyle modifications can help combat the aggravating tightness: “Drink more water; check your posture when you're sitting down, making sure to pull your shoulders back and down towards your rib cage; and move frequently,” suggests Grinceri. Most importantly, try to relieve some stress and anxiety throughout your days by taking a few deep breaths when you feel yourself getting worked up or even trying a mini-meditation. 

In addition to the suggestions above, further loosen up stiff shoulders by doing these expert stretches three to four times per week, from Grinceri, Ostwald, and Bergen Wheeler, Exhale’s director of fitness. 

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Long Arm Chest Stretch

Holding your arm out straight at shoulder-height, place your hand against a wall. Shift your body weight forward, creating a stretch into the muscles of the chest and shoulders. Take a few deep breaths into the muscles that you feel stretching. Repeat with other arm.

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Elbow Tuck and Open

Place your hands behind your head. As you exhale, tuck your chin towards your sternum while bringing your elbows towards each other. As you inhale, lift your head up towards the sky and pull your elbows apart. Repeat 10 times.

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Head Tilt Clasp

Clasp your hands behind your back, rolling your shoulders back. Slowly tilt your head side to side. Hold each ear toward your shoulder while taking up to three big, deep breaths. Repeat 10 times.

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Lat Pull Downs

This move helps strengthen your back muscles, which can also help improve your posture and take the pressure off your shoulders. Grab a resistance band or towel and hold it above your head with straight arms, keeping your neck and shoulders relaxed. Pull your shoulders down to activate your lats. Repeat 15 times.

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Shoulder Shrugs

Take a deep inhale, and squeeze your shoulders up to your ears. Lower them as you exhale deeply. Repeat 10 times.

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Palm Presses and Pulls

Press the palm of your hands together with all your strength and hold for three seconds, then lock your fingers together and pull away for three seconds. Repeat four times. This above video has a side-to-side head movement, should that feel better.

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Bent-Arm Shoulder Stretch

Start standing or sitting tall. Place one arm across your body and bend your elbow to 90 degrees, with your hand pointing up. Using your other arm, pull your elbow toward your opposite shoulder.  Hold for at least 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

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Thread the Needle Pose

Start on all fours. Take your right arm and thread it through under your chest to rest on a mat, resting on your right side. For a deeper stretch, take the left arm and place it behind your back. Hold for 5 deep breaths and come back to center before switching sides.

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