The Shoulders

Have you ever had difficulty reaching up to the top shelf or had pain in your shoulder or upper arm when raising your arm to the side or overhead? Shoulder pain or tightness is common, affecting some 18 to 26 per cent of adults. 

The shoulder is one of the largest and most complex joints in the body, as well as the joint most vulnerable to injury. The shoulder joint is formed where the humerus (upper arm bone) fits into the scapula (shoulder blade), like a ball and socket. The rotator cuff, a collection of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder, gives the joint support whilst the bursa, a small sac of fluid, cushions and protects the tendons of the rotator cuff. Finally a cuff of cartilage, called the labrum, forms a cup for the ball-like head of the humerus to fit into.

The shoulder joint is highly susceptible to injury because it has to move through such a wide range of motion.  To ensure that the arm can move freely in all directions adequate muscle control and strength is needed. If the motion is restricted by tightness in the muscles or the muscles are weak then injury is likely. 

As we age we unfortunately become even more vulnerable to injury in the shoulder, because our muscles start to weaken significantly as we pass the mid 30s. But rather than just accepting these injuries as a sign of our age, we can mitigate the effect of aging on our bodies by building and maintaining strength and suppleness in the muscles. 

The main factors that increase our chance of shoulder injury include a reduction in the range of motion for internal rotation, loss of external rotation strength, and scapular muscle strength imbalance. 

To decrease the risk of shoulder injury, it is important to improve the range of motion and build strength in both the rotator cuff and scapular muscles. In addition, weakness in the shoulder muscles leads to the overuse of muscles in our arms which in turn can lead to such conditions as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, and tendinitis.

Luckily, Pilates or modified Pilates exercises done on a regular basis can help prevent shoulder injury and relieve shoulder pain.

Do these simple exercises three to six times per week to relieve shoulder pain. Start with a 10-minute routine and gradually increase the duration as you get stronger and more flexible.

While doing these exercises, focus on relaxing and releasing any tension in your shoulders and anywhere else you feel tightness.

Stretch only to the degree that is comfortable on any given day. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits, and discontinue the exercises if you experience pain that goes beyond mild discomfort.

Wall Angels

This is a mild, but effective stretching exercise that improves shoulder range of motion.

Stand straight with your back to a wall. Lean backwards until your entire back is pressed against the wall. 

Raise your hands straight above your head; your hands should be touching the wall. Now slide down the hands slowly till your arms are bent at a 90-degree angle. 

Continue to slide them down the wall until the top of your fingertips are at eye level. 

Now raise the hands back up again until straight. 

Do 3 sets of 10 reps of this movement.

Deltoid stretch

This exercise helps increase flexibility and range of motion in your shoulder joint and the surrounding muscles. When doing this exercise, lower your arm if you feel any pain in your shoulder.

Bring your right arm across your chest.

Place it in the crease of your left elbow or use your left hand to support your arm.

Hold this position for up to 1 minute.

Repeat on the opposite side.

Do each side 3–5 times.

Fist Press

Bring your arms to shoulder height and make your left hand into a fist.

Press your fist into the palm of your right hand, hold for 20 seconds. 

Repeat 5 times.

Repeat on the other side.

Neck release (Half Horseshoe)

This exercise is a gentle way to loosen tension in your neck and shoulders.

Lower your chin toward your chest. You’ll feel a stretch along the back of your neck.

Gently tilt your head to the left to stretch your right shoulder.

Hold this position for up to 1 minute.

Repeat on the opposite side.

Do each side 3–5 times.

To deepen this stretch:

Place 1 hand on your shoulder and 1 hand above your ear to gently guide the movement.

Lower your chin toward your chest. You’ll feel a stretch along the back of your neck.

Gently tilt your head to the left to stretch your right shoulder.

Hold this position for up to 1 minute.

Repeat on the opposite side.

Do each side 3–5 times.

Half Eagle –  spinal rolls

This exercise stretches your shoulder muscles. If the arm position is uncomfortable, do this exercise by holding opposite shoulders.

While seated, extend your arms out to the sides.

Cross your elbows in front of your body with your right arm on top.

Bend your elbows, placing the backs of your forearms and hands together.

Reach your right hand around to bring your palms together.

Hold this position for 15 seconds.

On an exhale, roll your spine as your draw your elbows in toward your chest.

On an inhale, open your chest and lift your arms.

Continue this movement for 1 minute.

Repeat on the opposite side.

Half Downward Dog Pose

This restorative pose helps relieve tension in your back, shoulders, and neck. Place a cushion under your forehead, chest, or legs for support.

From an all 4s Position, stretch your arms forward and sink your chest to the floor, relaxing your spine and shoulders.

Stay in this pose for up to 5 minutes.

Downward Dog Pose

This inversion pose strengthens and stretches the muscles in your shoulders and back.

Start on your hands and knees. Press into your hands to lift your hips up toward the ceiling.

Maintain a slight bend in your knees as you press your weight evenly into your hands and feet.

Keeping your spine straight, bring your head and chest toward your feet so that your shoulders are flexed overhead.

Hold this pose for up to 1 minute.

Thread the Needle

This pose relieves tightness in your chest, shoulders, and upper back. Place a cushion or block under your head or shoulder for support if needed.

Start on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. 

Lift your right hand and pass it under your chest and over to the left side of your body with your palm facing up. You will need to bend your right elbow as you make this move.

Now lift your right arm towards the ceiling, opening your chest as you do so. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. 

Relax in Half Downward Dog before repeating this stretch on the left side.

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