Are your shoulders tense, raised and always tight as a rock?
Shoulders are often the first victims of ongoing stress and tension. No part of your body is so deeply linked to self expression in the world.
Stress causes you to tense and elevate your shoulders both in order to guard the vulnerable anatomy of your neck, and also in preparation to fend off an attack. Chronic stress results in perpetual guarding — or chronically tight shoulders.
And the worst part?
Tight, raised shoulders can actually mess with your interpersonal relationships.
Seriously, it’s true. While your arms and hands are tools for fighting, they’re also the medium through which we connect to other people.
Touch is an essential nutrient for human health. Physical contact reduces stress and anxiety, expands trust, boosts immune function and lowers blood pressure.
Plus, your hands connect energetically to your heart. When you shake hands with another person, you’re connecting with them heart to heart through an energy center (like a tiny chakra) in the palm of each hand.
The bottom line:
Too much tension in your arms, hands and shoulders chokes off the flow of energy like a kink in a hose. And modern life with all its technology, typing, texting and never-ending stress is the perfect environment for fostering tense arms and shoulders.
So if your shoulders are a little closer to your ears than you’d like or you’ve got some arm, wrist or shoulder pain, here are four stretches to give you fast relief.
1. How to use a doorway to relieve shoulder tension
This is one of the most well known shoulder stretches, and for good reason. It opens up your chest and shoulders, giving you more space to breathe and move.
Doing the doorway shoulder stretch is easy. Simply find an open doorway and place your hands on either side of the jamb. Lean forward until you feel a stretch across your chest and the front of your shoulders.
A word of caution:
Many people compensate for tight shoulders in this stretch by letting their hips sag forward, thus hyperextending their lower backs. To combat this, keep your abs lightly engaged and maintain a neutral spine.
2. The kettlebell exercise that strengthens while it stretches
The kettlebell arm bar exercise is perhaps one of my very most favorite stretches for tight shoulders. It simultaneously builds strength in the large muscles of your back that support your shoulder joint while also lengthening tight chest muscles.
The best part? You get to lie down while doing it. (I’m all for exercise that let me be lazy.)
Here’s how it works:
Grab a kettlebell that you can comfortably wield. When in doubt, start light. You can always go heavier if you find that it’s too easy.
Lie on the floor on your back and use both arms to press the kettlebell up toward the ceiling. Holding the kettlebell in your right hand, bend your right knee and place your foot on the floor.
Pressing into the floor with your right foot, roll your body to the left, keeping the kettlebell overhead. Roll as far as you can, twisting your hips toward the floor. Keep your eyes on the kettlebell as you straighten your right leg.
You will feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder. Stay here for a count of five before returning to the start. Switch arms and repeat on the left side.
Here’s a good video for reference:
3. For better shoulder alignment, focus on thoracic decompression
Say what now? Yes, I know, those are two big words. But don’t worry, the stretch is pretty simple and you don’t have to be able to spell “thoracic decompression” to do it.
Want to know the problem with most shoulder stretches? It’s that they focus on your shoulders. You would think that would be a good thing, right? Shoulder stretches to loosen tight shoulder muscles.
Well, here’s what most people don’t know about tight shoulders…
Your shoulders rest on your rib cage. And your ribs connect to your spine. If your mid-back is curved forward, then it’s going to pitch your shoulders forward, too, no matter how much you stretch them.
Releasing tension in your mid-back (thoracic spine) helps get your shoulders back into proper alignment.
And the best part? You don’t have to work hard to hold them there.
Here’s a great video with an easy thoracic decompression stretch:
4. Stretch tight shoulder and chest muscles using a wide push up
So, the doorway stretch is great for releasing tight chest muscles. But if you want more intensity, try this wide push up.
Note that you don’t have to be able to actually do a push up to use this stretch. That’s not the intention here. We’re just using the push up position to get a nice stretch across the front of our shoulders.
Why this stretch is great:
It uses pressure against the floor to elongate your pecs, deltoids and biceps. At the same time, the angle of your elbows gives you a deep release in the actual shoulder joint space, really targeting tight muscles and tendons that are difficult to reach in other stretches.
Here’s how you do it:
Using these four stretches will keep your shoulders (and your spine!) super happy. Used regularly, you’ll notice that your shoulders don’t creep up around your ears anymore.
Oh, one last thing…
The key to permanent tight shoulder relief
Listen, stretching is great and it will absolutely relieve shoulder tension — for the moment. But to get rid of your always tight shoulders for good, you have to fix the underlying problem: poor posture.
Stretching your shoulders and hoping they stay loose is kind of like putting a new roof on a house with a cracked and crooked foundation — and then wondering why the roof caves in every six months. You’ve got to address the root cause of the problem, otherwise it’s just a temporary bandaid.
It’s a whole body approach to better posture that relieves all your tight muscles so you can stop hurting and get back to doing the things you love.4