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  • Beth Duffy

Tricks to ease your nagging shoulder pain

Shoulder pain can be a huge source of frustration! When our shoulders are pain free, we have no idea how much we rely on them. Then when shoulder pain sets in EVERYTHING seems to be a problem, from dressing, to washing our hair, to driving. Even sleep becomes difficult when we are in the midst of a shoulder issue.

If you’re dealing with shoulder pain, the information out there can also seem overwhelming. There are dozens of shoulder diagnoses, all with their own recommendations. Each of these diagnoses is named according to the anatomical tissue that is irritated, however at the root of most shoulder issues are some basic core imbalances. For many people with shoulder pain, addressing these dysfunctions can set them on the road to shoulder health and healing.

Stretch your posterior capsule

The capsule is the deep connective tissue structure that connects bone to bone. It provides stability to your joints, preventing dislocation. It also creates an enclosed space for joint fluid which then provides nutrition to your joints.

In the shoulder, the portion of the capsule on the back side of your shoulder (the posterior capsule) can become restricted. When this tissue loses some of its extensibility, it can lead to various problems including a loss of shoulder mobility, or frozen shoulder. This tightness can also push the ball too far forward within the socket. Imagine that you're wearing a jacket, and then someone takes a hold of the jacket fabric just behind your shoulder. This would result in your shoulder being pushed forward within the jacket. This forward positioning of the shoulder ball within the socket leads to all sorts of issues including pinching of tendons or bursa.

The primary reason behind this capsular tightening is the sustained, forward shoulder postures many people stay in throughout their work day. This is one reason to take breaks from the computer every 20-30 minutes, even if it is just to push away from the desk, sit or stand up straight, and roll your shoulders a few times.

There is an easy stretch for the posterior capsule. If your right shoulder is the problem side, bring your right arm straight in front of you to breastbone height. Then supporting the right arm with the left hand, bring your right biceps towards your chest. Try to keep the right elbow pointing forward, but don’t allow the right shoulder to creep up towards your right ear.

If your posterior capsule is tight, you will most likely notice a difference in mobility between your problem side and your pain free side while doing this stretch. Some achiness is normal when stretching a tight posterior capsule, but you shouldn’t experience sharp or intense pain.

Try holding this position for 30-40 seconds, repeating 2-3 times. Then aim to do this stretch a couple of times per day.

Strengthen the posterior shoulder muscles

Everything we do is out in front of us - working on a computer, childcare, driving, and on and on. Unless we’re proactively exercising in a way to balance this out, we develop short and tightened structures in the front portion of our shoulders.

To make matters worse, these shortened muscle fibers often turn off, or inhibit, the counteracting muscles. Strengthening the muscles that oppose this forward pull can be very helpful in bringing balance back to our shoulder complex.

An easy exercise to strengthen these muscles is to lie on your stomach at your bed’s edge, allowing the arm that you are strengthening to hang off of the edge towards the floor. Face the palm towards the head of the bed, and let you forehead rest on your opposite forearm maintaining a face down position. Now, bring your straight arm up to hip height.

It’s important to not raise your arm above hip height. It’s also important to not push through pain. If you are doing this exercise with no weight in your hand and there is pain, only work through the portion of the motion that is pain free.

Start this exercise with only the weight of your arm, and as the exercise becomes easier add a light weight. Start with 1 or 2 pounds, and don’t increase the weight between sessions by more than a 2 pound increment.

Typically, I’ll recommend starting with 10 repetitions of this exercise. Take a 20-30 second break, then do another 10. Eventually you can work up to 3 sets of 10. Again, the goal is to not cause pain with strengthening, so modify the number of reps as needed to keep this exercise pain free.

Combined, these two exercises provide the first steps towards resolving the majority of non-surgical shoulder issues. And for some, this may be all that is needed to steer your shoulder back to balance and health!

Best wishes for healthy mobility!

For educational purposes only. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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