Slouching in your office chair hour after tedious hour can lead to stiffness, pain and loss of flexibility throughout the body, including your shoulders. Over time, tightness in the shoulders affects your ability to function. When you discover one morning that buckling your bra is tougher than it used to be, that's your cue to loosen things up. Use a back scratcher stretch -- one that mimics the motion of scratching your back -- to stretch the anterior, or front, part of your shoulder. Perform some variation of the stretch daily to increase flexibility in your shoulder extensors and internal rotators.
Warm up with five to 10 minutes of general, low-impact activity, such as walking, jogging or marching in place. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends performing a light warmup before performing any shoulder exercises. Stretching when muscle tissue is cold is less effective and can lead to injury, so don't skip the warmup.
Follow your general warmup with a dynamic shoulder stretch that involves smooth, continuous movement. Stand with your left side adjacent to a solid, stationary surface, such as a countertop or table. Place your left hand on the surface for support and lean forward slightly from your hips. Relax your right arm, letting it hang loosely in front of you. Circle the arm gently and slowly 10 to 15 times in a clockwise direction. Reverse the direction and repeat. Switch sides and work your left arm.
Move away from the surface and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, arms relaxed at your sides. Bend your knees slightly, press your shoulders down and back and contract your abs. Focus forward. Maintain this position throughout the back scratcher stretch.
Bend your right elbow and place the back of your right hand on your spine about midway between your shoulders and your tailbone. Slowly slide the hand upward, as if to scratch your back. If you wish, use your left hand to gently nudge the right hand upward. Avoid raising your shoulders or bending forward at the waist. When you feel light to moderate tension along the front of your right shoulder, hold for a count of two and then slowly lower the arm. Repeat eight to 12 times for a total of one to four sets before switching to your left arm.
Perform the same basic movement with the help of a "wand." Take hold of a dowel, broom handle or yard stick with your left hand. Place the wand behind your back, parallel with your spine. Your left hand should be near the top of the wand, palm facing the back of your head. With your right hand, take hold of the wand near the bottom, palm facing away from you. Slowly pull the wand up with your left hand, drawing your right hand upward along your spine. When you feel light to moderate tension, hold for a count of two and then slowly lower the wand. Repeat eight to 12 times for a total of one to four sets. Switch to your left arm.
Use a soft hand towel instead of a wand. Roll up the towel lengthwise. With your left hand, grasp the towel near one end and place your hand behind your head, palm facing in. The towel should dangle along the length of your spine. With your right hand, grasp the other end of the towel. Gently pull the towel upward with your left hand. When you feel tension in your right shoulder, hold for two counts and then release. Repeat eight to 12 times for a total of one to four sets before switching to your left arm.
- Functional Movement; Kris Wittman
- National Institutes of Health: Up the Back Stretch
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Rotator Cuff
- Essential Exercises for Breast Cancer Patients; Leonard Andrea and Amy Halverstadt
- MayoClinic.com: Shoulder Stretch With a Towel
- Fundamentals of Athletic Training, 3E; Lorin A. Cartwright and William A. Pitney
- If one of your shoulders is notably weaker or tighter than the other, you'll find that using a wand or towel is particularly helpful. Because both arms are involved in manipulating the wand or towel, your healthier arm can guide and assist your weaker or tighter one.
- Don't rush the movement or force the stretch. Move in and out of the stretch slowly and deliberately. If you feel pain, stop immediately. You've likely pushed the stretch too hard, too fast.
- If you've injured your shoulder in the past, speak to your doctor, physical therapist or trainer about the advisability of specific exercises.
Judy Fisk has been writing professionally since 2011, specializing in fitness, recreation, culture and the arts. A certified fitness instructor with decades of dance training, she has taught older adults, teens and kids. She has written educational and fundraising material for several non-profit organizations and her work has appeared in numerous major online publications. Fisk holds a Bachelor of Arts in public and international affairs from Princeton University.