Sometimes you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Injuries to a once-healthy body part are frustrating and painful, so it's no surprise that shoulder issues take the enjoyment out of life. When your shoulders hurt, reaching for something in a cabinet, opening a door and even driving can be excruciating. Take care of your shoulders by maintaining -- and even increasing -- their flexibility with stretching.
Internal rotation is the ability of your arm to rotate inwardly. For example, turn the crease of your elbow toward your body -- that's internal rotation. Internal rotation is also part of throwing a ball. Your shoulder externally rotates when you bring your arm back and then internally rotates to throw the ball. Your large internal rotators are your pectorals on your chest, your latissimus dorsi on your back and anterior deltoids -- or shoulder muscles. The other internal rotators are three small muscles. They are the subscapularis, teres major and supraspinatus. When the internal rotators are tight, your shoulders roll forward making your back hunch over. To make matters worse, tight internal rotators cause tendons to rub together, which can eventually lead to shoulder pain.
The sleeper stretch is an internal-rotation stretch. Aside from having a strange name, this stretch can be tricky to master. The danger is that some people overuse the stretch or go at it so aggressively that they do more harm than good. To do the sleeper stretch correctly, focus on three points: shoulder blade position, shoulder position and intensity. Start by lying on your right side with your right arm outstretched in front of you. Feel the outside edge of your right shoulder blade pushing against the ground. Roll your body back slightly and bend your elbow so that your hand is up in the air. Using your left hand, pull your hand down as if you are trying to pull your palm to the ground. Feel the stretch, but it shouldn't hurt. Hold this stretch for 45 seconds to one minute and then switch sides.
Cross Body Stretch
According to Mike Reinold, physical therapist for the Boston Red Sox, the cross-body stretch is better than the sleeper stretch. The cross-body stretch is a gold mine because it's simple to perform and extremely effective. To set up for this stretch, find a door jam and lean the right side of your body against the frame. Feel your shoulder blade as it is held in place by the frame while you use your left arm to pull your right arm across your chest. Hold this stretch for 45 seconds to one minute and then switch arms.
Perform stretching in a comfortable position. When you do the sleeper stretch, try doing it on carpet or an exercise mat. Go easy on the pressure because an aggressive internal rotation force causes more problems than it solves. If a healthy shoulder hurts during the stretch, you're most likely pushing too hard. If your shoulder is already in pain, see a doctor before trying to solve the pain with stretching, because you may make the situation worse.
Carl Galloway is a strength-and-conditioning coach at a high school in Southern California. He is certified as an Olympic lifting coach through USA Weightlifting and as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). Galloway holds a bachelor's degree in kinesiology and a master's degree in coaching and athletic administration.