We posed your question to Dr. Kevin Laudner, a kinesiologist at Illinois State University who specializes in shoulders. “There are 20 to 30 muscles around the shoulder,” Laudner says. “I’m guessing there are quite a few that are causing the tightness, and there’s no one stretch that’s gonna get everything.”
Shoulder tightness often occurs when the muscles stay contracted after a workout. “The longer they stay in that contracted state, that’s when they start to develop scar tissue,” Laudner says. “That scar tissue gets really hard and hurts your range of motion.”
He recommends four stretches, including one performed on a foam roller, that should increase your mobility. You can do the stretches several times a day, just make sure they don’t cause you any pain. And “don’t be frustrated if you’ve been doing them for a week and you don’t see any improvement,” Laudner says. “It may take longer to break up any scar tissue—it can get rock hard and hard to break up—but just keep at it.”
Fight Tight Shoulders With a Foam Roller
Lie down on your side with your arm overhead. Place the foam roller just below your armpit, and rock back and forth on it. Repeat on the other side.
Fight Tight Shoulders With a Tennis Ball
This exercise uses a ball. Start out with a tennis ball, then as you can tolerate it, move up to something harder like a baseball, and finally a golf ball.
Lie down on your back with the ball underneath you. Start by putting the ball on the inside of your scapula (shoulder blade)—the part closest to the spine. Roll around until you find a tender spot, then roll the ball over it a bit, and hold it there. You can use your legs to move your body around until you find a sensitive spot, or move your arms until the ball falls into a tight place. “Maybe it’s bringing your arm across your body, overhead, or to the side,” Laudner says.
Alternatively, put the ball on the outside of your scapula—the part closest to your arm.
Fight Tight Shoulders at Work
Standing in front of a table or a desk, bend over at your hips and put your arms straight out in front of you with your hands on top of the table. Then drive your chest down toward the ground. “This’ll really get the chest muscles. They’re part of the shoulder and they can cause major shoulder problems,” Laudner says. “Tight chest muscles are one of the number-one causes of shoulder tightness.”
From this starter stretch, you can play with your arm angles. For example, with your hands straight out in front of you, you can move your hands to the sides and do the same thing—drive your chest down with your hands still on the table
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