Recently, I had a client complain of mild, achy shoulder pain when washing her hair. Since she said she had “done nothing” to hurt her shoulder, she was frustrated with the pain, and concerned about having a major shoulder injury brewing. Since she had full range of motion, but experienced pain when reaching her arm up, we discussed that it was likely impingement.
Shoulder impingement is pretty common, and usually occurs when the muscles in the front of the shoulder are short and tight, and the muscles around the shoulder blade are weak and over-stretched. As a result, the shoulder joint is misaligned, causing vulnerable soft tissues in the shoulder to be “squished” when reaching up (as in shampooing your hair.) This can become very painful if it’s not addressed early.
The shoulder complex contains the most mobile joints in the body, allowing us to push, pull, carry and throw. Because it is made up of several joints and many supporting muscles, it is particularly vulnerable to poor posture and movement habits.
If you have mild shoulder discomfort when reaching overhead, and suspect impingement, try the following.
The Straight-arm Chest/ Shoulder Stretch will stretch the tight muscles in the front of the shoulder to allow the shoulder blade area muscles to work. Stand at a doorway (toward the middle of the doorway,) with the affected arm straight at shoulder level. Your wrist should be against the door jamb. Turn your head away from the straight arm for the stretch. If you need more, start to rotate your shoulders away until you feel the stretch in the front of the shoulder and chest. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Next, the Bent Arm Shoulder Retraction will strengthen the Shoulder blade area to help restore good posture and muscle balance. Stand with feet staggered and hold a light resistance band with both hands. Anchor the band at chest level. The band should have no slack in it as you stand with arms bent at right angles. Exhale to squeeze the shoulder blades toward each other without arching the back or popping the ribs (it’s a very small motion.) Inhale to return to start position. Practice two sets of five.
If your pain is beyond mild, or the above exercises irritate your shoulder, it’s time to see your doctor. Shoulder impingement is common, especially in our posture-challenged world. These exercises are a good start to correcting the root of the problem. For more information on impingement or good shoulder exercises to improve posture and alignment, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.