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4 Effective Exercises and Stretches to Relieve Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain can become a chronic problem that affects every day work and life activities. Even simple movements like getting dressed, combing your hair, and eating can be painful chores. Visit Redefine Healthcare for expert medical guidance if you are experiencing shoulder pain or the discomfort in your joint continues to increase. Dr. Eric Freeman specializes in pain management and rehabilitation and recommends the best treatment options after evaluating your symptoms and identifying the causes of pain. He understands what you are going through and comes up with advanced, noninvasive pain management options, including exercises and stretches that relieve your shoulder pain successfully.

Our shoulders have a huge responsibility. We rely on their strength and flexibility to reach, lift, hold, carry, press, and pull. As they perform so many activities, pain or discomfort in the shoulders is inevitable. Swelling, damage, or changes to the bone around the rotator cuff in the shoulder can lead to pain that affects normal joint activities.

What Makes the Shoulder Vulnerable to Injury?

A shoulder is not a single joint. It comprises several joints that work together with tendons and muscles to provide the rotation and stability that allows easy movement.

The shoulder complex can involve many other body parts, including:

  • Neck
  • Ribs
  • Scapula (shoulder blade)
  • Clavicle
  • The thoracic region of the spine
  • Humerus

As so many parts need to work together to make a shoulder function properly, it also means that any damage or injury to these parts can result in shoulder pain or stiffness. There may be many causes of shoulder pain and stiffness, depending on the type of injury, infection, or muscular problem.

Shoulder Pain

What Causes Shoulder Pain?

There are times when shoulder pain is so intense and severe that it constitutes a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment by a trained and experienced physician. It is often in case of a dislocation, separation, or fracture.

Other common causes of shoulder pain include arthritis, impingement, instability, and overuse.

Many other conditions lead to pain in the shoulder. They are:

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that are responsible for supporting, and moving the shoulder and keeping it stable. The tendons are attached to the arm bone in an area underneath the bony prominence of the shoulder bone. If the rotator cuff tendonitis becomes inflamed, trapped, or pinched under this bone, it can result in inflammation and soreness.

Most people experience rotator cuff disease in their advanced age. Any swelling, damage, or bone changes around the rotator cuff in the shoulder can cause pain that affects your normal life. A rotator cuff tear, when one of the tendons is torn from overuse or injury, can also cause intense shoulder pain.

Biceps Tendonitis

The bicep tendon is attached to the bicep muscle in the upper arm to the front of the shoulder. Also called the long head of the biceps tendon, this strong, cord-like structure connects biceps muscles to the bone in the shoulder socket.

This tendon can become pinched, irritated, or inflamed due to the bony anatomy of the shoulder blade or by ligaments that are attached to the collarbone and shoulder blade. Pain in the front of the shoulder and weakness are common symptoms of biceps tendonitis.


Bursitis is a painful condition that affects the small, fluid-filled sacs called bursae that cushion the bones, tendons, and muscles near the joints. These fluid-filled sacs enable the shoulders to glide easily without any hindrance. Shoulder bursitis occurs when the bursae between the humerus bone and the shoulder blade become inflamed or pinched.

Bursitis usually occurs from injury or overuse of the muscles, but it can also be caused by infection. Pain, swelling, and tenderness near the shoulder joint are common symptoms of bursitis.

Frozen Shoulder

Also called adhesive capsulitis, a frozen shoulder is a painful condition in which the shoulder becomes painful and gradually loses motion. This usually happens due to lack of use, a worsening rheumatic disease, and a lack of fluid to help the shoulder move or bands of tissue that grow in the joint and restrict motion.

Keeping the shoulder still for a long period while recovering from an injury, broken arm, or stroke also increases the risk of developing a frozen shoulder.

Effective Exercises and Stretches That Relieve Shoulder Pain

If your shoulder pain is resulting from some trauma or injury and the pain is not going away even after two weeks, it is best to seek medical help. It is essential to visit a doctor for an accurate diagnosis and to rule out any underlying condition.

Certain causes of pain in the shoulder blade, including rotator cuff injuries or frozen shoulder, can worsen over time, and leaving them untreated can only complicate matters. You may require surgical intervention if at-home remedies and conservative treatments fail to provide relief.

Consulting a physical therapist can also help you ease mild to moderate shoulder pain and discomfort. The therapist will evaluate and assess your pain, check your range of motion and strength, and at the same time, monitor the quality of your shoulder motion. Keeping in mind the extent of injury and intensity of pain, the therapist will recommend the best exercises and stretches to control inflammation and relieve the pain.

Here are the 4 most effective exercises and stretches to relieve shoulder pain:


It is a stretching exercise for your shoulder and helps to improve flexibility, increase range of motion, and reduce pain.

  • Start by leaning over and supporting your non-injured arm with a table or chair.
  • Allow the sore arm to dangle straight down, and then start drawing circles in the air.
  • Start with small circles, but start making bigger circles with every movement and also reverse the directions after a few minutes.
  • Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times throughout the day.

Arm Across the Chest

This exercise is effective for promoting flexibility and range of motion in your shoulder joint and the surrounding muscles.

  • Hold your right hand out in front of your body, keeping it near the waist.
  • Take your left hand behind the elbow while pulling the right arm to the left and across the chest.
  • Lower the arm until the pain lessens.
  • Hold in this position for 30 to 50 seconds and then release.
  • Repeat this stretch 3 to 5 times.

Neck Release

This exercise gently and slowly helps to loosen the tension in your neck and shoulders and eases pain.

  • Sit up straight and slowly tilt the chin toward the chest until the stretch can be felt in the back of the neck.
  • Lean your head toward the left to stretch the right shoulder, or conversely lean to the right to stretch the left shoulder.
  • Try to maintain the stretch for a minute on each side.
  • Try breathing deeply to help relax and maximize the stretch.

Chest Expansion

This exercise promotes flexibility and range of motion in the shoulders.

  • You will need an exercise band, rope, strap, or tie.
  • Take any of these items and hold them behind the back while grasping them with both hands.
  • Move the shoulder blades toward one another and gently lift your chin toward the ceiling.
  • Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds while breathing deeply.
  • Do this 3 to 5 times.

Read more:
Sciatica Exercises: What’s Best and What to Avoid
Everything You Need to Know About Upper Right Back Pain and Its Possible Causes

If you experience pain while performing any of the stretches or exercises or if your pain does not improve even after 6 weeks, call your doctor or consult a physical therapist regarding manual therapy. Manual therapy is a specialized form of therapy in which the therapists use their hands to alleviate your pain.

Sprains, strains, and painful stiffness in the shoulders are common, but they can be treated and prevented with the right exercises and stretches. Mild to moderate shoulder pain can be relieved with at-home remedies that ease the discomfort and allow normal movement of your arms and back, but intense pain needs medical attention. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Eric Freeman at Redefine Healthcare if your shoulder pain is turning severe, or occurring frequently. The pain specialist figures out the causes behind your discomfort and recommends the best exercises, stretches, and physical therapy to provide long-term relief and prevent further discomfort.

Page Updated on Dec 15, 2022 by Dr. Freeman (Pain Management Specialist) of Redefine Healthcare


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Dr. Eric D. Freeman

Dr. Eric D. Freeman is a top-rated, best-in-class pain management doctor. He is a nationally recognized pain relief specialist and is among the top pain care doctors in New Jersey and the country. He is an award-winning expert and contributor to prominent media outlets.

Dr. Eric D. Freeman has been recognized for his thoughtful, thorough, modern approach to treating chronic pain. He has been named a “top pain management doctor in New Jersey” and one of “America’s Top Physicians” for advanced sports injury treatments.

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