Shoulder Care 101: Safe Shoulder Exercises & Stretches

Hi, everyone.

Doctor. Keller Wortham here with another home edition of house call, and I have a pop quiz for you. Does anyone know what the most mobile joint in the body is?

It allows us a huge range of motion, but we pay a price for it. Raise your hand if you know. Oh, that's right. You just used it.

The shoulder.

In addition to being the most mobile joint in the body, it is also the most complicated joint in the body. Which leaves it very vulnerable to injury.

The shoulder is a shallow ball in socket joint with various planes of motion but a high risk of dislocation and injury.

In fact, the shoulder is only surpassed by low back and knees for reasons that people seek medical advice for musculoskeletal problems.

Let's talk about the anatomy of the shoulder a little more.

Yeah. Trusty model here for us. The shoulder is composed of three bones, the humerus or your upper arm bone, the scapula, also known as the shoulder blade, and the clavicle, this bone right here. And then no less than thirteen muscles and tendons that span the joint to give you all of those functions and keep it in place. This model doesn't really show all of the muscles, but we do have some of them along with the ligaments.

Even with all of these ligaments and muscle tendons, the shoulder is prone to injury.

Both acute injuries from falls or sporting activities or chronic injuries from long term demanding work, or issues with posture, or just improper use and four.

So let's review some common causes of shoulder pain. Like I said, it's one of the most common complaints I get in my clinics.

One, bursitis.

So we have these little bags called bursa that sit in the shoulder and kind of help protect the tendons from rubbing against each other. And the it is part is inflammation. So inflammation of these bursa, these little bags is one reason. Number two is tendinitis, ten tendinitis' inflammation of the tendons of those thirteen muscles that I just mentioned, and that can result from repetitive stress on the tendons or poor technique or poor posture.

Number three is rotator cuff injury. Now, the rotator cuff is, mentions the four very specialized tendons that help kinda keep the shoulder in place and serve as kind of the main shoulder girdle. And these can be injured by lifting a heavy object or falling on an outstretched arm. However, the injury is often due to gradual degenerative process that weakens these tendons over time until they tear. The most common rotator cuff injury is to the supraspinatus, which is the muscle that goes from the the top of the shoulder blade here and then connects over to the upper arm bone.

Another cause of shoulder pain is a bicep tendon tear. Bicep, your kind of main popeye muscle. In fact, if you tear a bicep tendon, it can give you kind of a ball here. Not a very attractive one that they call the popeye effect.

Another injury of the shoulder, shoulder dislocation. And this can happen where the shoulder kinda pulls out of the socket, and that can happen from, a fall or from a rapid, forceful movement.

Other causes are thritus, which has to do with the loss of cartilage within the joint, or frozen shoulder, which is inflammation of the kind of the cap that protects the whole joint. Another cause of pain, shoulder separation, sometimes this is called the AC joint spraying or AC joint separation that has to do with this little nubbin here, which is where your clavicle and part of your shoulder blade come together. And then last but not least, fractures of the bones. So, I had some good news. The most common causes of shoulder pain in older adults at least are osteoarthritis, rotator cuff, injuries, and shoulder impingement syndrome. And luckily, for all of these, you can work functionally to improve your shoulder strength and your shoulder placement and help either reduce the pain of these or prevent the pain from happening in the first place.

So the first thing that I want you to know when it comes to shoulders, is that poor posture puts you at risk for many shoulder injuries, including the three main ones that I just talked about. So I want to start with talking about how to improve your posture.

So you may have heard this before, but it's really important. When you think about posture, don't think about just kind of like, you know, throwing your shoulders back and sticking your chest out and kind of getting this weird, like arch in your back. Would you imagine a string coming from your feet all the way up through your body, through your neck, through your head, and kind of pulling up on your head towards the ceiling way, way up high. You're going to feel your entire spinal column and body kind of elongate.

And again, you don't need to throw those shoulders back. You're just going to feel them kind of pull up with you. They should be really in line over your hips. The head should sit on top of the neck and not forward, and then you're gonna feel like a tightening or a pulling in of your belly muscles.

Okay? So that's kind of the the visual, that string, pulling your head up, and just kind of almost elongating your whole body with your feet nice and flat on the floor and those core muscles really engaged.

Now for a lot of us, we sit all day at work. So I wanna talk a little bit about seated posture.

Again, posture being so important for the health of the shoulders.

So if you're sitting in a chair all day, a lot of us, I want you to always have the chair where there's a little bit of an angle. So the the the hits are slightly higher than the knee. Knees. Okay?

Your feet flat on the floor. And if you're working with a keyboard or a desk or you're writing, then, you know, you should have slight downward slope of the wrists towards the table or the keyboard, and your elbows just almost at a ninety degree angle there, maybe a little bit, a little bit bigger. Alright. If you're looking at a screen, then try to have the screen eye level.

Okay. So you're not kinda looking down like this. Or if you're working with a phone or a tablet, raise it up so that you're looking at it here instead of kind of that that what they call it, the phone, phone head, the phone neck that we all get. Alright.

Last thing just really like let the shoulders relax and hang down. Don't have them kinda hunched up here towards your ears. Alright.

The reason it's so important to improve your posture, because it improves shoulder position.

And when the shoulders are in a proper position, your risk for rotator cuff injury, impingement syndrome, and even arthritis are much lower.

So in addition to the posture, I'm going to show you three simple exercises that you can do to improve shoulder position.

First one, just the simple shoulder rolls. You can do these in the morning when you wake up. You can do them at work breaks. Basically, all you're doing is you're getting the shoulders you're hiking them up towards your ears, you're pulling them back, and then you're letting them drop down. Show this from the side. Again, kind of pulling them up, pulling them back, and letting them go back down.

I like to do these focusing on having my pawns turning outward okay, away from me. That can kind of help open up some of these upper muscles in the chest and the shoulder area. And you can do these shoulder rolls, make a little set of like ten of them, or you're just kind of doing that, you're feeling the shoulders go up, and you're feeling the muscles in your back around your shoulder blades, pin them down. And feel a nice stretch there, especially if you open your palms away from you.

The second exercise of our postural positioning exercises is just a wall stand. A nice vertical wall gives you a good reference point for your shoulders and your back. So you're just gonna stand basically against the wall. You can have your feet, maybe six inches away from the wall. If you're gonna put your butt against the wall, your back against your wall, your head against the wall, you're gonna feel that alignment, and then you're just gonna basically raise the shoulders, push them back again, feel the shoulders kinda pinch behind you, and then just press your head against the wall while you're there, and then relax.

Again, up, pin those back, let them go down, press your head against the wall. This helps strengthen some of the muscles of the neck. It helps stretch some of the other ones that can get tight with bad posture.

So just work on that. Okay?

Again, for this, you can just kind of do maybe a series of ten or you can just really do less and just kind of hold it there and hold for longer and maybe just do five where you're holding kind of that position for ten seconds that muscle engagement, and then relaxing.

A lot of us have tension in the shoulders. So the third thing I'm going to talk about is just a simple station for the shoulders. And I'm gonna do this again sitting. So, you know, if you're at work and you're sitting at your desk for a long period of time, you can do these intermittently to help relieve that tension in your shoulders.

You're going to lift your chin slightly. You're going to roll those shoulders back again and pin them down. And then once they're there, maybe with your palms facing away from you. You're going to slowly nod your head.


Five times Okay?

And after that, you're going to shake your head no five times. This is not a rapid movement. This is slow and steady movements, so you can feel the stretch at each of the extremities of the movement. Okay?

And then you're gonna shrug your shoulders up towards your ears and then let them return down to a starting position. So you can really feel the tension in them, and you can feel that release. Alright? So again, posture is so important for shoulder health, and these three exercises can kind of help with shoulder positioning and therefore posture.

But that's not the end of it. We also need to do some exercises to help strengthen our shoulders and specifically to help strengthen the rotator cuff muscles that are those fundamental four muscles and tendons that keep the shoulder in place. The good thing about these exercises, they don't require heavy weights, They are very low impact. You just need some elastic bins and little weights of maybe one to three pounds to do all of these exercise.

Like I said, these are specifically going to address the small muscles of the rotator cuff. They're going to improve strength, range of motion, and additionally shoulder position. Like I said, that's so important.

First one, just what you call the pot stirrers. Okay. She's gonna grab a little weight. I got a two pound weight here.

I'm just gonna lean over, comfortable position. You can have your forearm here if you like. Or you can use your hand, if you can't go down that low. You're just gonna let your let your arm hang down with a little bit of traction from that weight.

I'm just gonna stir the pot. I'm looking up at you, but you'll be looking down when you do this. Stir the pot like that. Alright.

Stir the pot one direction.

Stir the pot the other direction. What this does is it helps loosen up the shoulder for the rest of our exercises. This weight provides a little bit of traction to kind of help stretch out those rotator cuff muscles.

I would say do ten stirs one way then ten stirs the opposite way. Okay? Again, this is not forceful. This is just meant to kind of warm up the shoulder, just a nice rotational movement.

Alright? That's one exercise. Number two, which is going to continue to kind of elongate those muscles and warm them up, our shoulder pendulums. He uses the same weight here. I'll stand sideways, you can see. And you're just gonna go through the kind of range of motion of the shoulder by swinging that weight It's a little bit almost like a of a traction exercise.

Okay. You can go that way. If you want to do them another way, you can do the front plane, Again, we're just warming up the shoulder, so we're talking about maybe maybe ten movements in each plane. That'll give you a nice start there.

Okay? Again, not forceful. Maybe just tend this to the side and do, of course, with each arm. And then you've got the the shoulders kind of nice and ready for the rest of your exercises.

Our third exercise will be a wall pushup. Basically, you find a wall.

You're gonna stand about two to three feet away from the wall, and you're just gonna push in and engage away from the wall, let your body come in, And again, push away from the wall. When you do this, you want to feel the shoulder blades again kind of retract behind you and then extend out. If that feels too easy for you, You can do this with an exercise ball.

Put the ball there. Now you're doing a push up with the ball. Can I have your hands turned out a little bit there for control, and then just let yourself go in and push back out? Again, these are slow motions and push back out.

When you use an exercise ball, it wiggles. So you have to use these tiny muscle fibers that help with stability. The muscles. It's a very great way to kinda add an element to your exercise.

Your fourth exercise are internal and external rotations. So you need an elastic band with this. Alright. So I'm gonna grab one here.

I have this very comfortable elastic band here.

You can one without handles. If you have one, they these are very easy to come by sporting, stores or even kind of your general kind of marketing stores target and whatnot.

So basically for one of them, the external rotation, what you're gonna do is hold the elastic band with your elbows locked down at your side, you can even put a rolled up towel here if you want. Just give it a little bit of support.

With those elbows down to your side, you're just gonna kinda pull away and relax. These are very important for working the external rotators of the shoulder Again, this is not a fast movement. This is a slow steady, pull away, and relax back down, pull away, and relax back down. Benefit of this is I get to work both sides at the same time. And, you know, you might hold it for one, two, three, and come back in.

One, two, three, and come back in. So with this portion of it, I have to be a little creative here. I'm just looping this around a table, but you can do this around a door. Thing.

What I'm doing with this is now the internal rotation. So I've got my arms starting in the outward position, and I'm just pulling it in. Okay? I'm feeling that traction as I pull my forearm in towards my body.

Again, you want your elbow down at your side. This is a nice controlled movement.

And again, sets of ten are perfect. You can hold it one, two, three, and then back out.

One, two, three, and then back out. With elastic bands, it's very easy to change, the resistance that you're feeling by either shortening or elongating the strap.

For our fifth exercise of this series, I'm gonna show you what I call a standing v raise. You're gonna need two weights, Again, they don't have to be very heavy. You're gonna stand here in good form, kind of feeling the core engage, and you're gonna start raising these in a v motion out to the side of you kind of diagonally out to the side.

Again, I like to do sets of ten. You can do three of those sets. Doesn't have to be a fast motion, and you're raising it up. You can hold at the top, one, two, three, and back down.

One, two, three, and back down. These are all very good at exercising those those very important yet fragile muscles of the rotator cuff. For our six strengthening exercise here, we're gonna do a seated row. Again, I'm using my elastic band with handles.

I'm gonna sit here on the floor. If you can sit like this with a little bend in your knees and your toes pointed straight up, that's perfect. If that's a little too challenging, you can also kind of be in a little bit more of a bend there. And then you're just gonna basically pull these handles in to about the chest level.

You're gonna feel your shoulder blades retracting behind you. Hold for three seconds and then release.

Pull it in. Hold for three seconds, and then release. If it feels too easy for you, move further away from whatever you're using to anchor your band. Here, I've got it around the leg of my table here, but at home, this could be a pole, It could be the leg of your dining room table, your kitchen table, pull, hold three seconds, and then release. Again, I like to do sets of ten. You can do multiple sets if you feel like you have the time or you have the stamina to do that. Moving on here, you can see how helpful it is to an elastic band like this, we're going to do bicep curls.

Bicep curls also help the shoulders. The bicep is a fundamental muscle that helps the shoulder engage and move the arm in all these different directions.

Again, you can do both at the same time. Or if it's easier for you to focus on one arm, you can do one at a I'm gonna go all over here, and I'm just doing a curl. Okay?

Keep your elbows again kind of locked at your side.

Slowly raise up, hold, and release.

Slowly raise up, hold and release.

Again, three sets of ten is perfect for this kind of exercise. And if you feel that, oh, that's too easy, you know, you can make your band shorter, putting putting it under both feet. Oh, yeah. See, I felt the weight go up a little bit in that. Alright? Again, slow and steady. Wins the race.

Moving on for my eighth exercise. This is what I call a diagonal.

You can put the band under one foot.

And now you're gonna we're gonna work with my right arm this time. You're basically just going diagonally across and up to the top.

Now if you have some shoulder arthritis already, you might not be able to get all the way up there. That's okay.

Like with all exercises, You don't want these to cause pain. If you feel that you're hurting more than like a two or a three on the pain scale, you're doing too much.

Alright? Just slowly going up and diagonally and coming back down. If you can only get to about here, that's okay.

Just go about that far. And then as you get more range of motion, you can go a little further. And if you feel like that's too heavy, give yourself some more room there on the band. Okay? It'll make it make it night not quite so much resistance.

Our ninth exercise is really more of a stretch It's what I call a wall climb. Here, basically you just find your trusty old wall, and you're gonna use your fingers and you just start to climb up. And you climb as high as you feel comfortable. Again, you're trying to kind of stretch all of the small muscles there. If you can get closer and closer to the wall, if you could get all the way up against the wall, you can turn your body away from the wall a little bit. And then when you get to that position, just lean into it.

Lean into it. For this, it's not as much about a repetition of sets. You can kind of do just one long stretch staying there for about thirty seconds.

Twenty seconds if thirty feels too long for you. And then you can come, relax, let your arm come back down. If you wanna repeat it, you can do a second stretch for twenty to thirty seconds, and then, of course, repeat on the other side. And for our final exercise, our final stretch here, we're gonna stretch another internal rotation. Basically, for this one, all you gotta do is put your arm behind your back. Okay. I'm gonna turn so you can see what I'm doing.

And all you gotta do is just try to get that arm as high as you can without hurting. Again, less than a two or a three on the pain or discomfort scale.

And just have it there. Once it's there, you just want to feel your shoulder, press back. That's where you get the stretch. You get in a position and you just feel your shoulder pulled back.

Oh, yeah. I can feel that too. I have tight, tight shoulders from an internal rotation standpoint. So you guys might be able to get your arms way up behind your back.

But if you can't, even if it's Even it's down there even lower, just get it there and then feel that shoulder pin back. So there you go. Ten exercises in addition to the three postural exercises that we went over to help work on your shoulder, strength, position help prevent some of the main causes of shoulder injury, which include rotator cuff tears, and just arthritis and impingement syndrome. But a couple caveats here, when you should call your doctor instead of just trying to do these exercises at Number one, if the pain is lasting for longer than a week, number two, if it's interfering with your sleep, Number three, if your joint looks deformed or number four, you can't move it all without feeling pain.

Number five, if you have a sudden increase in pain or a sudden onset of the pain. And last, but not least, number six, if your shoulder looks swollen or red or is warm to the touch. Okay. But if your shoulder looks in good shape and you can go through these exercises, then go ahead and start with this program.

Try to do it at least several times a week, and you will really help to get those shoulders in the right place, keep them strong, and prevent one of the main causes of musculoskeletal skeletal pain that I see in my office. Alright, guys. I'm Doctor. Keller Wortham.

This was another home edition of house call. I will see you guys soon.