Do you have a tight upper back, rounded shoulders, or neck pain? To reduce shoulder pain after a long day of screen time, try these nine simple exercises.
Think about the number of times you find yourself using technology every day. You’re hunched over a laptop keyboard or craning your neck to answer a text message.
In fact, if your habits are anything like that of the average American, you’re likely to spend upwards of five hours on your smartphone every day (1).
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And while you may not think that your love of all things tech is putting your body under pressure, the science says otherwise.
- A study published in Surgical Technology International revealed that texting can add up to 50 pounds of pressure on a person’s spine (2).
- Findings from The Journal Of Physical Therapy Science concluded that excessive usage of smartphones can lead to various psychosocial and physical symptoms in teenagers (3)
- The prolonged use of mobile technology (smartphones, computers, or tablets) is directly related to increased discomfort and postural deviations (4).
Over time, seemingly harmless movement patterns (such as rounding the shoulders forward or dropping the chin) cause incremental shifts in your physical alignment. When repeated hundreds of times each day, these small patterns can wreak havoc on your shoulders, neck, and upper back.
Not only does “tech-posture” reposition the spine in that moment, it also changes the body’s understanding of a neutral posture. That’s why you may notice increased stiffness in your back, shoulder pain, or kinks in your neck after a long day at the office.
Eventually, these little aches can morph into serious issues, such as losing the natural curve of the cervical spine or developing postural kyphosis (i.e., a hunched upper back). (6) (7)
To make matters worse, the longer you continue to establish these poor movement patterns, the more stress you’re placing on your shoulders, neck, and back. In fact, dropping the head forward and down by even a few degrees can double the weight of the head on the neck.
Fortunately, the damage isn’t irreversible. And while the stiffness in your neck, shoulders, and mid-back may feel debilitating, it isn’t life-threatening. But it is a wakeup call that your upper body needs a little more TLC, starting with today’s mobility exercises to release tight shoulders.
9 Mobility Exercises for Shoulder Pain
To improve overall shoulder mobility, these exercises focus on releasing the muscles surrounding the scapula, mid-back, and chest. They use a combination of closed chain exercises (i.e., keeping a hand/forearm/elbow on the floor), open-chain exercises (i.e., functional movements that don’t require stabilizing against the ground), and fascial-release exercises (to release the connective tissue that surrounds the shoulder girdle and pecs).
Closed Chain Mobility
Rolling Chest Stretch | Hold for 3 breaths per side
Start by lying on your stomach with your arms stretched out to the side in a letter “T” position. Keep the palms facing down. Bend the left elbow, and press the left palm next to the left side of the ribcage. As you roll the body towards the right hand, press into the left hand, bend the left knee, and take the foot to the outside of the right leg. Hold for 3 breaths, before gently releasing. Switch sides.
Scapula Shrugs | 15 reps
Start on hands and knees. Keep the elbows straight as you shrug your shoulder blades together. To push the shoulder blades apart, press more into the hands, towards the side of the ribs. Continue to shrug in and out for 15 repetitions.
Thread The Needle | Hold for 5 breaths per side
Start on hands and knees, with the fingers pointing in towards each other. Bend the right elbow as the left arm reaches under the body and across to the right side. The left shoulder and ear can relax down onto the floor (if your flexibility allows). Hold in this position for 5 breaths. Switch sides.
Open Chain Mobility
Arm Circles | 5 circles forward and back
Start by kneeling on the floor or sitting in a chair. Keep the arms down by the side, palms facing the hips. Sweep the right arm up overhead, the palm facing in towards the body. At the top, rotate the palm away from you. Continue to circle the arm back behind the shoulder (with the thumb pointing down) until you return to the starting position. Complete 5 circles forward and 5 circles back. Switch sides.
Scapula Glides | 5 reps per side
Start by kneeling on the floor or sitting in a chair. Reach the right arm forward, directly in front of the chest (with the palm facing the left side). Reach through the right fingertips, so the right shoulder blade glides away from the spine. Keep the torso still, then glide the shoulder blade back in towards the spine. Keeping the elbow straight. Continue to move the shoulder blade out and in for 5 repetitions. Relax the arm, then switch sides.
Upper Back Bend and Stretch | 5 reps
Start by kneeling or sitting in a chair with the hands behind the head, and elbows straight out to the side. EXHALE, round the upper back, and relax the chin to the chest. Allow the elbows to drop down and in towards each other*. INHALE and lift the elbows, head, and chest. Continue to extend the upper back, and tuck the breastbone. The eyes gaze towards the ceiling. Continue to alternate between these two positions for 5 repetitions.
*Note: Do NOT pull on the head or neck. Simply allow the natural weight of the hands to drape the chin to the chest.
Ball Against Chest | 30 sec per side
Start by lying on your back. Take a fascial-release ball or tennis ball. With gentle pressure, use your left hand to roll the ball against the right side of your chest and the front of the shoulder. Avoid rolling on the sternum (breast bone). Continue for 30 seconds before switching sides.
Ball Under Shoulder | 30 sec per side
Start by lying on your back. Take a fascial-release ball or tennis ball, and place it behind your right shoulder (below the clavicle and above the scapula). Gently roll from side to side (against the ball) for 30 seconds. Remove the ball, and switch sides.
Ball Under Armpit | 5-10 breaths per side
Start by lying on your left side, with the knees bent and the left hand cradling the head. Keep the elbow reaching forward on the floor. Gently place a fascial-release ball or tennis ball under the side of the left shoulder (at the back of the armpit, in the teres minor and major muscle group). This exercise is very tender, so be gentle. Hold for 5-10 breaths, depending on the intensity. Switch sides. You can also do this exercise standing against a wall, with the ball between the wall and shoulder (which is a more gentle version).
(Your Next Workout: 11 Moves to Improve Hip Mobility)