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.
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.