Being able to move your shoulders through their full range of motion is one of the most important aspects of life. When you’re not able to move the way you want to, it can hold you back from doing so many things. Poor shoulder flexibility can also increase your risk for injury. That’s why strengthening and increasing shoulder flexibility will help make sure that your body gets the quality care and exercise it deserves.
What’s Making Your Shoulders Tight?
There are several reasons why you could be having tension and pain in your shoulders (10).
Below are some of the most common causes of inflexibility:
Trauma From A Fall
When you fall, it’s natural for your body to tense up in fear of the impact. This release of stress can affect your shoulders, which are very important for movement.
Spending much of your day hunched over, working at a computer, or staring down at something can cause your shoulder muscles to tighten up (8). Poor posture while sleeping is another one that throws off good shoulder mechanics.
Poor Exercise Form
It’s possible to have poor exercise form if you try to do too many exercises at once without proper instruction or coach, don’t warm up properly, or go past the point of fatigue during an exercise routine—all common reasons for shoulder injuries (10).
Read More: Relax Yoga Poses To Calm Your Body
Benefits Of Shoulder Flexibility
The benefits you get from increasing shoulder flexibility are many and include:
Less Risk Of Injury
Having limited mobility puts you at a higher risk for injury, both in everyday life and during workouts (1). During daily activities like reaching down to tie your shoes or lifting anything over 20 pounds (like a baby), much more stress is put on your shoulders and your joints. You can avoid these injuries by keeping your shoulder flexibility up to snuff.
If you want to do any sort of physical activity such as lifting free weights or climbing, having limited mobility in your shoulder joints will make it extremely difficult for you to move the way you want to. This is why increased flexibility around your shoulders is important if you’re someone who wants to enjoy an active lifestyle!
With increased freedom of movement comes a better range of motion which means more full-body workouts and less targeted movements with specific parts of the body (i.e., arms only) (2). Full body workout programs like CrossFit and yoga include a bevy of exercises that work all different parts of the body. The only way to make sure you get everything you want out of these workouts is to make sure your shoulder joints can handle them!
Having limited flexibility in your shoulders is not something you should put up with, especially if it’s slowing you down.
How To Measure Shoulder Flexibility Using The Apley Scratch Test?
Here is how to perform the test:
- Raise your right arm straight up towards the ceiling.
- Bend your right elbow. Rest your right palm on the nape of your neck while pointing your fingers downward.
- Place your left hand behind your back with your palm facing away from your body.
- Move your right and left hand to each other, as far as you can go.
- Have someone measure the distance between your fingers. If your fingers touch, the result is zero. If they overlap, it’s -1.
- Release your grasp and return to the starting point.
- Repeat the test on the opposite shoulder.
What Do Test Results Mean?
The results of the Apley scratch test can be used to assess your range of motion (ROM), including flexion and extension. If you cannot reach at least an inch beyond your shoulder, you may have a loss in shoulder flexibility and/or mobility (12).
The results are interpreted as follows:
- Excellent: Fingers overlap
- Good: Fingers touch
- Average: Fingers are less than 2 inches apart
- Poor: Fingers are more than 2 inches apart
Safety And Precautions Of The Apley Scratch Test
Do not attempt to do this test if you have an injury or condition that limits your ROM or causes pain in either arm. For example, if you recently had surgery on one of your shoulders, wait until after you have healed to perform this test. Also, avoid attempting this exercise if you have arthritis or other medical conditions that cause pain in your joints when they are moved against resistance.
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How To Improve Your Shoulder Flexibility?
If you’re someone who wants to move freely and avoid injury, there are several ways to increase flexibility in your shoulders.
For starters, try adding shoulder-strengthening exercises into your regular workout plan like:
The shoulder press is also referred to as the overhead or military press. This exercise works your entire shoulder and core and is great for building strength. Remember to begin with light weights before you can move to a heavier set (5).
- Stand with feet hip-width apart. Hold the weight straight out in front of both shoulders (like Superman flying).
- Keeping your core tight and back flat, slowly press the weight overhead until arms are extended aloft.
- Slowly lower the weight and bring it back to the starting position.
- Repeat 12 times.
This exercise works the muscles around your shoulder blades, such as the infraspinatus muscle and rhomboids (11).
- Sit on an exercise ball or bench holding light weights (3 pounds max) with palms facing forward and elbows slightly bent.
- While squeezing shoulder blades together, slowly raise your arms up and away from the body until weights reach shoulder height and almost touch.
- Slowly lower to the starting position.
- Do 12 reps.
Plank With Arm Lift
This workout activates the muscles in your shoulders, back, and abdominal area (7).
- Get in the standard plank position, but add weight over your chest when you’re ready.
- Lift one hand off of the ground so that only your forearm is touching the floor while keeping your hips lifted throughout.
- Hold for five seconds, then switch arms and repeat for a total of 4-6 times for each side.
When it comes to increasing both flexibility and strength in your joints, yoga offers great workout opportunities, including poses that target muscles surrounding your shoulders like warrior pose, triangle pose, downward dog, and chaturanga. Incorporating these movements into exercise routines can help improve overall shoulder flexibility.
Reclined Hand To Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana)
This yoga pose is a great way to get the hips and lower back loosened up, which is one of the key limiting factors of flexibility (9).
- Begin by reclining on your back with both knees bent and the soles of both feet flat on the floor.
- Hug your right knee into your chest. Take a yogi toe grip around the big toe or wrap a strap around your instep for extra support.
- Extend your right leg straight up into the air.
- If possible, stretch your left leg along the floor. It’s fine to keep it bent as well.
- Toe flex/point with both feet.
- A hand on your left thigh might serve as a reminder to keep that hip flat on the floor.
- Check to make sure that the right femur (thigh bone) and humerus (upper arm bone) are correctly positioned in their sockets.
- Repeat with the other leg after 5-10 breaths.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This all-purpose yoga for beginners pose is fantastic for opening up your shoulders and hips (3).
- Put your hands 3 inches ahead of your shoulders and shoulder-width apart on all fours.
- Bring your wrists parallel to the front edge of the mat and root down evenly through the whole of each hand.
- To bring your forearms forward, press down firmly with your fingertips. As you pull your forearms toward the front of the space, keep your knuckles on the ground.
- While firming your triceps into your midline, spin your biceps forward.
- While extending your outer upper arms, roll your inner upper arms toward the wall in front of you.
- Inhale, tuck your toes under, and lift your hips; exhale as you press your hips back and up.
- Make sure your feet are hip-width apart and parallel once again.
- Allow your head to hang freely without any tension in the neck, and look at your feet.
- To keep the articulation of your shoulder bones and openness at the base of your neck, allow your shoulder blades to spin out and up, away from your spine (upward rotation).
- Maintain the hand and arm actions from all fours to open your shoulders without straining or sinking through the armpits.
- If your lower back is rounded, bend your legs and straighten your sitting bones by pushing them up and back.
- With each exhalation, root down firmly with your hands, then send your hips back and up even more with each subsequent inhalation.
- Hold for a minute and release.
Eye Of The Needle Pose (Sucirandhrasana)
This pose is excellent for opening up your shoulders and upper back (4).
- Slide the right hand between the left hand and left knee in table position. Slide the arm to the left so that the right shoulder and side of the headrest are comfortably on the floor.
- Inhale and extend the left hand up towards the ceiling.
- Begin by testing out the posture with your arm, looking for where you feel the greatest stretch, then stay in that position and extend through your fingertips.
- Breathe and hold for 3-6 breaths.
- To come out of the pose, gently exhale as you return to the table position.
- Repeat on the left side.
Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)
This pose requires a combination of upper body and leg strength, so it builds both stamina and flexibility (6).
- Start by standing with your feet together.
- Jump your legs as wide apart as possible and extend your arms to form a T posture.
- Turn your left foot inward and your right foot and leg outward.
- Exhale, bending your body to the side and bringing your right hand to your shins and left hand to your hip.
- Begin to bend your right knee and move your right hand forward, with it a bit outside of your foot.
- Bend the front leg a bit farther and let your left foot glide behind you. Continue to move forward until your armpit and shoulder are directly over your wrist.
- To strengthen the fingers, wrists, and arms, keep your right hand cupped and your elbow fully extended. Your right leg should be bent, and your kneecap pointed toward the toes, with your left foot barely touching the ground.
- Press down with the right foot and fingertips to achieve consistency. Maintain a solid foundation by turning your chest upward until the left shoulder is in line with the right. Explore this turning motion without losing contact with the grounded arm or leg.
The Bottom Line
Dancers, gymnasts, and other athletes who rely on their flexibility know that a little extra range of motion can be a huge advantage. If your shoulders make it difficult for you to enjoy everyday activities like driving or playing with kids, trying stretches, exercises, and yoga poses might help increase your shoulder flexibility.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Acute effects of muscle stretching on physical performance, range of motion, and injury incidence in healthy active individuals: a systematic review (2015, cdnsciencepub.com)
- CURRENT CONCEPTS IN MUSCLE STRETCHING FOR EXERCISE AND REHABILITATION (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) (2021, yogajournal.com)
- Eye of the Needle Pose (Sucirandhrasana) Instructions & Photos • Yoga Basics (n.d., yogabasics.com)
- How to Do a Military Press With Perfect Form – 2021 (2021, masterclass.com)
- How to Do Half-Moon Pose: 4 Practice Tips for Half-Moon Pose – 2021 – MasterClass (2021, masterclass.com)
- Plank with Arm Raise Exercise Video Guide (n.d., muscleandfitness.com)
- Posture: Align yourself for good health (2016, mayoclinic.org)
- Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana) (2007, yogajournal.com)
- Research on Shoulder Injuries in Athletes and Treatment Methods (2015, researchgate.net)
- Reverse Fly Guide: How to Do Reverse Flys With Perfect Form – 2021 – MasterClass (2021, masterclass.com)
- The Painful Shoulder: Part I. Clinical Evaluation. – American Family Physician (2000, aafp.org)