By Kimberly Burke
The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, meaning it can have the highest degrees of range of motion, but this can also come at the cost of joint stability. Shoulder mobility is important both from a strengthening and stretching perspective. We need strength to help support the joint and decrease risk of injury. We also need flexibility to maintain a pain-free range of motion. With many of us in sedentary jobs, we can experience a tight upper back or shoulders from our regular work posture. Here are a few exercises to incorporate into your regular exercise routine, or to use during a ten-minute work break. Please be advised, these are general recommendations and should you have further questions or individual concerns, seek the advice of a medical professional.
- Doorway stretch – Placing elbows on each side of the door just below shoulder height, walk through the door until upper arms are close to parallel to the floor and/or you begin to feel the stretch across the front of your shoulders/chest. Hold for 10 -30 seconds, and repeat once if you’d like. You can repeat this stretch, but instead, use your hands to hold onto the doorframe and walk through the doorframe backwards and plant your feet to drop your hips out behind you. This time, you should feel a stretch in your upper back and backs of your shoulders. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat once.
- Shoulder rotations against a wall – This one is very similar to wax-on wax-off. Using a tennis ball or small round object with some give, hold the object against the wall with the palm of your hand. Step back until your arm is close to parallel to the floor. Begin to make small counter-clockwise rotations with your arm and ball against the wall, apply only a little bit of pressure. Aim for five counter-clockwise and five clockwise rotations with each arm.
- Scapular retraction – After loosening the muscles of the shoulders and upper back, you can do a couple of shoulder rolls forward and backward. Then aim to bring the tips or bottom of your shoulder blades down and in toward the spine. Keep the tops of your shoulders relaxed and away from your ears or jaw. Lift your chin to parallel to the floor and look straight out. Squeeze the shoulder blades together and down to help rotate out the front of the shoulder and open up the chest. Squeeze for 5-10 seconds and relax, repeat up to 5 times.
These are hopefully simple-to-follow yet effective exercises to stretch and add mobility back the shoulders and upper back. The shoulder is a complex network of muscles and bones that may require individual attention for some. Adding in some exercises to your regular routine or desk break may help to counteract long periods of hunched posture and improve range of motion.
Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see the Adult Fitness Program website.