Shoulder Blade Stretches: Exercises to Relieve Pain in Tight Shoulders

Medically Reviewed By Jared Meacham, Ph.D., RD, PMP, CSCS
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If the shoulder blade, or scapula, is out of position, or if there are any problems with the tendons attached to the scapula, it can cause pain and make movement difficult. Several stretches may help ease this pain. Over 50% of the general population will experience shoulder pain at some point in their lives.

A 2021 study found that shoulder stretches and exercises promoted correct shoulder alignment and reduced muscle tightness. This caused a decrease in pain of up to 40% in participants.

Below are some exercises that can help relieve shoulder blade pain. Check with your doctor to make sure these exercises are appropriate for you.

Shoulder stretch

a woman is doing a shoulder stretch

A shoulder stretch can be effective for releasing tension and pain in your shoulder blades and upper back muscles.

  1. Stand straight and relax your shoulders.
  2. Raise one arm out in front of you so that it is at shoulder height, and reach it across your chest, pulling it gently with your other arm. You should feel a gentle stretch through your upper back and shoulder.
  3. Hold the position for several seconds and then release.
  4. Repeat the stretch 2–4 times, and then do the exercise on the other side.

Shoulder roll

a woman is doing a shoulder roll

The shoulder roll can help relieve shoulder blade pain due to tension in your shoulders, upper back, and neck.

  1. Stand up straight and imagine that a string is pulling the top of your head towards the ceiling, which will improve your posture and alignment.
  2. Relax your arms and then move your shoulders up towards your ears.
  3. Circle your shoulders slowly in one direction 2–4 times, and then repeat in the other direction. Focus on keeping the motion in your shoulders, releasing tension and strain.

Shoulder blade squeeze

a woman is doing a shoulder blade squeeze

If you round your shoulders when you work at a computer or while on the phone, your shoulder blades may move into a position that strains the muscles. This can cause shoulder blade pain.

This simple exercise can help reposition them and relieve this pain. It can also open up your chest muscles, which is important in relieving shoulder pain.

  1. Stand up straight and pull your shoulders back so that your shoulder blades move together and slightly downward.
  2. Hold for a few seconds and repeat 10 times.

Reverse shoulder stretch

a woman is doing a backwards doorway stretch

This gentle stretch focuses on the muscles in the shoulders, arms, and upper back, loosening the shoulder blades.

  1. Clasp your hands behind you and stand up straight.
  2. Look straight ahead and raise your arms behind you, squeezing the shoulder blades together and keeping the hands clasped.
  3. Hold the position for several seconds.
  4. Repeat the motion 2–4 times.

Goalpost stretch

a woman is doing a goalpost stretch

This exercise will open your chest and the front of your shoulders, using the muscles that support your shoulder blades to increase mobility in the middle and upper spine.

  1. Stand up straight and lift your arms with your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, even with your shoulders to make the shape of a goalpost.
  2. Relax your shoulders down, and then pull your arms towards the back of the room, squeezing the shoulder blades back and down. You can use a doorway to aid the movement. Do not force the movement any farther than you can do comfortably.
  3. Repeat several times.

Hand-behind-back stretch

a woman is doing hand behind back stretch

This pose can help stretch the front of the shoulder and promote shoulder mobility.

  1. Stand straight and with your right hand, hold the wrist of the left hand behind your back.
  2. Slowly pull the left wrist towards your right side. Do not force the stretch.
  3. Repeat 4–5 times.
  4. Release and repeat on the other side.

Bridge yoga pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)

a woman is doing a bridge pose
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width apart and your toes pointing straight ahead. Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing down.
  2. Walk your feet back until your fingers touch your heels or as close as you can comfortably get.
  3. Take a breath, press your feet onto the floor, and lift your hips up.
  4. Breathe out and relax into the pose, focusing on opening your chest and moving your shoulder blades down and together.
  5. Hold the pose for about 3–5 slow breaths, then lower your body slowly down to the floor.

Warrior II yoga pose (Virabhadrasana II)

a woman is doing warrior 2 pose

This yoga pose releases hunching and tension in the upper back and shoulder blade area.

  1. Place your feet about a yard apart.
  2. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach out to your sides, palms facing downward.
  3. Turn your left foot forward, parallel to your arms, and turn your right foot outward to 90 degrees.
  4. Gently bend forward on your left leg, until your knee is over your ankle.
  5. Stretch your arms to widen the shoulder blades.
  6. Turn your head to the left and remain in this position for about 30 seconds.
  7. Reverse your feet and repeat.

Locust yoga pose (Salabhasana)

a woman is doing locust pose
  1. Lie face down on the floor with your feet hip-width apart and your arms flat down by your sides, palms down.
  2. Keeping your arms straight behind you, lift your chest so you are looking forward. Then lift your arms and hands, keeping them parallel to the ground.
  3. If you can, lift your feet so you are resting on your belly and pelvis.
  4. Rotate your shoulders to extend your arms outward and turn your thumbs up, lengthening your arms. Press your shoulder blades down and into your back.
  5. Hold the pose for 3–5 slow breaths and repeat 2–3 times.

Causes of shoulder blade pain

Pain or tension in the shoulders usually happens due to improper neck or back posture. Most of the time, it happens because of the way a person sits or stands when using a computer or at work.

However, other possible causes of shoulder pain that are part of a more serious condition include:

  • Arthritis: People with types of arthritis may experience swelling and pain in their shoulders. This includes osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Infection or injury: These can cause inflammation, which would lead to flushed skin, swelling, and pain around the shoulder.
  • Damage: Shoulder pain may be the result of damage or injury to the bones, cartilage, muscle, or tendons in and around the shoulder.
  • Other areas of the body: Shoulder pain can also happen because of problems in other parts of the body, including the neck.

If you are concerned about shoulder pain for any reason, contact your doctor.
Learn more about when to contact a doctor for shoulder pain.

How to prevent shoulder blade pain and tightness

Researchers in a 2021 study on male athletes noted that self-applied stretching could prevent shoulder tightness and pain. Their findings showed the positive impact of shoulder stretching regardless of the physical differences between participants.

Aside from regular stretching, the following tips can help prevent shoulder pain and tightness:

  • Improve desk setup where possible: Ensure screens are at eye level if working at a desk.
  • Be aware of bodily positions: Learn to notice when your posture is not optimal and try some shoulder rolls to counter this. Setting alarms to remind yourself to sit straighter may help.
  • Improve muscle strength: Strengthening the muscles that surround and support the shoulders, upper back, and neck can help reduce the pressure on these areas. This might include working on core strength and strengthening the back muscles.

Learn more about shoulder blade pain.

Summary

Shoulder blade pain and tightness usually happen due to improper posture. Stretching the shoulders in certain ways can both help treat the pain and prevent it from recurring. These stretches include shoulder rolls and yoga poses, such as Warrior II.

If you experience severe or persistent shoulder pain or feel concerned about the pain or tightness, seek medical care.

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Medical Reviewer: Jared Meacham, Ph.D., RD, PMP, CSCS
Last Review Date: 2022 Jan 20
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