8 Simple Exercises for Shoulder Opening

Tense shoulders are no fun and neither are the headaches they can cause. These simple shoulder opening exercises help stretch out those tight shoulders to give you some relief.

Tense shoulders are no fun, and neither are the headaches that they can cause. These simple shoulder opening exercises help stretch out those tight shoulders to give you some relief.

Stress isn’t the only cause of shoulder pain. Overuse—including things like poor posture when sitting at the computer or heavy lifting—can strain the shoulders, causing pain. In rare cases, gallbladder disease, liver disease and heart disease can be the culprits behind your shoulder pain. If rest and gentle exercises aren’t helping, definitely talk to your doctor to see what’s going on.

If your shoulder pain is caused by overuse, rest is the best place to start. Like with other strain and sprain injuries, rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE) are the best prescriptions. Sleep with a pillow under your upper back to elevate the shoulders above your heart at night and use ice and compression during the day. You should feel the pain ease within a couple of days. When it’s comfortable to do them, these exercises can help give further relief and possibly prevent a future injury.

These simple exercises for shoulder opening are meant to help with mild to moderate shoulder pain. If you pain is severe or lasts more than a couple of weeks, make an appointment with your doctor to find out what’s going on.

1. Half Lord of the Fishes

This spinal twist stretches the spine and releases the shoulder muscles. Remember not to push yourself too hard in this stretch, especially if you’re recovering from an injury. Enjoy the gentle stretch and just go as far as you can without forcing it. As you practice this pose, you’ll be able to go further.

2. Cat/Cow Poses

This is actually two poses that you flow between. They’re great for stretching and gently strengthening shoulders muscles, meaning they can help you recover from injury and help protect you from further injury.

3. Levator Scapula

Don’t let the fancy name trip you up—this is a shoulder opening stretch that you may be already doing. The video above just walks you through how to do it properly. As with any stretch, alignment is important. And, like he says, make sure not to pull too hard. You want to stretch, not cause yourself pain.

4. Sphinx Pose

Sphinx is a simple backbend that improves posture and opens up the chest and shoulders. You use your arms for support in this pose, so it’s a backbend that virtually anyone can do.

5. Upper Trapezius Stretch

This is another stretch with a complicated name that you probably already know how to do. This video shows you how to properly stretch your upper trapezius—the muscles between the shoulder and neck—for pain relief.

6. Reclined Twist

This relaxing yoga pose is great for stretching two muscle groups in the shoulders: the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor. As a bonus, you get a nice stretch along your spine and the outsides of your legs. This is one of my favorite yoga poses to do when I’m feeling stressed or sore.

7. Sleeper Stretch

This is an easy stretch to do when you climb into bed at night. It’s important to have good alignment, though, so if you have a very soft mattress, you’re better off practicing this on a yoga mat or towel on the floor.

8. Downward Dog

I truly believe that downward dog is one of those yoga poses that benefits everything. In the case of tight shoulders, the forward bend uses gravity to lengthen the neck away from the shoulders. Squeezing your shoulder blades together in this pose also improves your posture over time, which helps prevent shoulder pain and injury.


Images via Thinkstock.


Sonia M

Good post thanks for sharing

John B
John B1 years ago

Thanks Becky for sharing the info and videos.

William C
William C2 years ago

Thank you.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago


Joanne p.
Joanne p2 years ago


federico bortoletto

Grazie dell'ottimo articolo.

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

M. M.
M. M2 years ago

WOW... I already do some of these exercises but I just favorited this article to add the other ones!