Tight shoulders can cause pain or stiffness in your neck, back, and upper body, and limit your daily activities. Your shoulders may feel tight and stiff as the result of stress, tension, and overuse. Tight shoulders can be also caused by sitting for extended periods, incorrect sleeping positions, and injuries. Poor posture and improper alignment of your body can also play a part.

Read on to learn how to relieve and prevent tight shoulders.

It’s important that you stretch your shoulders regularly to loosen and strengthen the muscles. Releasing tension in your body can improve your overall feelings of wellness, too.

These stretches may help increase flexibility, extend your range of motion, and prevent injury. If you’re short on time, try to do them in shorter spurts throughout the day. You can increase the number of sets you do as you gain strength and mobility.

1. Shoulder raises

  1. While standing or sitting, and with your arms by your side and a straight back, slowly lift your shoulders up toward your ears.
  2. Hold here for a few seconds.
  3. Slowly lower your shoulders back down.
  4. Repeat 5 times.

2. Shoulder rolls

  1. Maintain good posture while standing or sitting.
  2. Roll your shoulders up, back, and down.
  3. Do this movement 10 times.
  4. Then, roll your shoulders up, forward, and down 10 times.

3. Ear to shoulder

  1. Sit with a straight spine and tilt your head toward your right shoulder.
  2. Go as far as you can without straining or lifting your left shoulder.
  3. Deepen the stretch by using your right hand to gently pull your head down.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

4. Chin retraction

  1. Align your head, neck, and spine while standing or sitting.
  2. Extend your chin in front of you as far as it will go without straining.
  3. Then pull your chin back into your throat and neck.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

5. Cross arm stretch

  1. Bring your left arm across the front of your body at about chest height.
  2. Support your left arm with the elbow crease of your right arm or use your right hand to hold your left arm.
  3. Stretch out your shoulder and continue to face forward.
  4. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

6. Standing arm swings

  1. Stand with your arms by your side and your palms facing your body.
  2. Swing your arms forward to bring your arms as high up as they will go without raising your shoulders.
  3. Lower your arms back down and bring them as far back as you can.
  4. Keep the rest of your body still.
  5. Continue this movement for 1 minute.

7. Standing arm lifts

  1. Make fists with your hands and bring them in front of your hips.
  2. Inhale as you lift your arms overhead so your hands come together above your head.
  3. Lower back down to the original position.
  4. Repeat 10 times.

8. Wide-legged standing forward bend

  1. Stand with your feet wider than hip distance with your toes facing forward.
  2. Interlace your hands behind your back and open your chest.
  3. Engage your leg muscles and keep a slight bend in your knees.
  4. Hinge at the hips to fold forward, bringing your arms over your head toward the floor.
  5. Allow your head to hang down and tuck your chin in slightly to your chest.
  6. Remain in this pose for up to 1 minute.

9. Cat cow pose

  1. Place your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
  2. On an inhale, fill your belly with air and let it sink down as you look up.
  3. Exhale as you engage your abdominals, tuck your chin into your chest, and round your spine.
  4. Continue this movement for a few minutes, paying special attention to your shoulders.

10. Thread the needle

  1. Come onto your all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
  2. Lift your right hand and slowly bring it over to the left with your palm facing up.
  3. Rest your body on your right shoulder and turn your head to face to the left.
  4. Make sure you’re not sinking onto your shoulder.
  5. Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
  6. Slowly release and come back to the original position.
  7. Repeat on the opposite side.

11. Reverse prayer pose

  1. You can do this pose while seated, standing, or in tree pose.
  2. Bring your hands behind your back with the backs of your hands facing each other and your fingers facing down.
  3. From here flip your hands in the other direction so your fingers are facing up.
  4. Turn your palms to face each other.
  5. Press your palms together, draw your elbows slightly back, and open your chest.
  6. Keep your spine straight.
  7. Hold this pose for 30 seconds.

12. Cow face pose

  1. From a seated position bring your left elbow up to the side of your head with your hand facing down your spine.
  2. Use your right hand to draw your left elbow over to the right as your hand moves further down your spine.
  3. If it’s comfortable you can bend your right arm and bring your right hand up to clasp your left hand.
  4. Hold the pose for 1 minute.
  5. Repeat on the opposite side.

Tight shoulders can be caused by several factors, including age. Many of the movements you perform in your daily life cause you to bend forward. That strains your shoulders, neck, and back.

You may create tension in your shoulders from everyday activities such as texting, sitting for extended periods, or carrying heavy bags. Weak muscles, poor posture, and incorrect alignment in your body can also lead to tight shoulders. In some cases, muscle tension may also be the result of injury or chronic stress, or an underlying condition, like:

See your doctor if your shoulder tightness doesn’t improve once you start stretching, or if you’re experiencing intense pain. You should also see your doctor if you begin to experience muscle weakness in your arms or start to have other symptoms such as fevers.

Your doctor may:

  • help you to develop an exercise program
  • refer you to a physical therapist
  • prescribe medication, such as muscle relaxers or pain relievers
  • recommend hot and cold therapy, or the use of a bandage or sling to limit movement

In severe cases, you may require surgery.

It’s important to take care of your shoulders even if they aren’t tight now. Exercising regularly is key to prevention.

  • Stay active and engage in activities that require you to use your shoulders, such as swimming or yoga.
  • Always drink plenty of water, especially when you exercise.
  • Go for regular massages if it’s possible, or take a few minutes each day to do self-massage. You may use essential oils diluted in a carrier oil or a muscle rub for this.
  • Avoid a sedentary lifestyle and stay as active as possible.
  • Try to maintain good posture and proper alignment in your body. Pay attention to your body as you go about your daily tasks. If you sit for long periods, change your position often and get up for a short break every 30 minutes.
  • Reduce your stress.

If you notice tension or tightness in your shoulders, it’s important to take steps to relieve the tension as soon as possible. Early treatment can reduce your risk for complications.

It’s a good idea to do exercises to loosen up your shoulders even if you don’t have severe tightness. Try to bring your awareness to this area of your body throughout the day, and work on relaxing and releasing tension. If you’re experiencing long-lasting or intense pain, see your doctor. They may recommend additional therapies or exercises.