The shoulder joint and surrounding musculature are intricate physical structures that can suffer a variety of ills -- generalized stiffness from working at a computer, for example, injury from sports or other activity and general lack of movement. To help keep your shoulders in good working order, mobile and free from aches and pains, stretch them daily with elevation movements designed to keep them pliable and functioning well.
The Shoulder Girdle: An Intro
The shoulder girdle supports the arms and, thanks to its design, allows the arms a wide range of independent movement. The shoulder girdle consists of four bones: at the front of the body, two clavicles, or collarbones, and, at the back, two scapulae -- the wing-like bony prominences that "float" on the surface of the rib cage. The major muscles that act directly on the shoulder girdle include the trapezius, a large sheet of muscle that covers most of the upper back, and latissimus dorsi, which spans the lower half of the back. Keeping the traps and lats as free from tension and strain as possible will improve the quality of movement across the shoulder girdle. The rotator cuff comprises the smaller muscles of the shoulder joint -- subscapularis, supraspinatus, teres minor and infraspinatus.
Why Mobility Is Important
According to Mayo Clinic, frozen shoulder, also known as adhesive capsulitis, causes pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. In many cases, symptoms start gradually and worsen over a period of one to two years. Stretching the muscles of the shoulder girdle and shoulder joint is crucial to helping prevent frozen shoulder and, in general, maintaining optimal mobility of the shoulder so that everyday tasks and activities can be performed without limitation.
Elevation Stretches: How They Help
If you want to keep your shoulders well-functioning and happy, stretching them via elevation exercises will facilitate an environment of increased blood flow to the muscles as well as enhance your flexibility -- and greater flexibility allows the joints to move across their full range of motion as nature intended.
Examples of Elevation Stretches
The most basic shoulder elevation stretch simply involves sitting or standing in an upright position and shrugging your shoulders toward your ears. Keep your arms straight and at your sides. Begin with a fluid up-and-down movement and then hold your shoulders at the top of the stretch for a few seconds; this will help strengthen the muscles of the shoulder region. After holding your shoulders for a few seconds, gently drop them. Avoid jerky movements that could tweak your muscles.
Another great shoulder elevation stretch is a variation on the simple shrug. As you lift your shoulders toward your ears, roll them back while squeezing your shoulder blades together and then roll them forward as you release the blades. Repeat. This movement will help lubricate the shoulder joints and release built-up tension in the muscles.
Another key move is the forward elevation arm stretch. Lift one arm at a time straight in front of you, keeping your arm straight and switching your palm position with each rep so that it faces front, left and right on each arm. If you can move your arm past your head a few inches without strain or pain, do so. Otherwise, pause when your arm is at your ear, release the arm to the starting position and repeat.
- Anatomy of the Moving Body; Theodore Dimon, Jr.
- MayoClinic.com: Frozen Shoulder
- MayoClinic.com: Stretching: Focus on Flexibility
- YouTube.com: Shoulder Elevation Stretch: Active Isolated Stretching
Michelle Kodis has been a writer and editor for more than two decades. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University, is the author of nine books and has contributed articles to various magazines, newspapers and blogs. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and studies canine therapeutic massage/acupressure.