As someone who spends a large part of my day hunched over a laptop, I am very familiar with tight shoulders. No matter how often I remind myself to sit up straight and maintain good posture, every now and then I look up and realize I’m huddled over with my spine rounded, shoulders high near my ears, and my neck in some wonky position so that my face is practically pressed against the computer screen. (I guess that’s my “concentrating” pose?) Without constant reminders (though, my Apple Watch‘s frequent reminders to stand up do help a little), it’s very easy to revert to a not-so-ideal sitting position. Combined with my propensity to carry no less than two very heavy tote bags around with me most days, my shoulders are often tight and achey.
Turns out, I’m definitely not alone. “Stiff, tight shoulders are one of the most common complaints among all people today—especially anyone who spends extended amounts of time slumped at a desk or sitting behind a steering wheel,” Brad Walker, Australian trainer and triathlon coach and director of education at StretchLab in Los Angeles, tells SELF. “This position causes our upper back to round forward, our chest to tighten, and our shoulders to lift and compress, all leading to very poor posture and eventual shoulder tightness and pain.”
It’s not just poor posture, though, that can make your upper body feel super tense. “Your shoulders may become tight as a result of poor posture, muscle tension, overuse (for example, too many push ups), or even stress,” Dan Giordano, D.P.T., co-founder of Bespoke Treatments Physical Therapy in New York City and Seattle, tells SELF.
Strengthening the core and upper body, including your back and shoulders, is a great way to improve your posture over time. And your shoulders specifically may benefit immensely from rotator cuff exercises, which strengthen and stabilize the small muscles that help keep the ball-and-socket joint in place. But if tightness is what plagues you, doing some shoulder stretches can provide short-term relief.
Also, it’s important to pay close attention to what you’re feeling. Tightness isn’t so much to be worried about, and stretching is a good way to improve that. Pain is another story. The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body (fun fact), which also means it tends to be unstable and prone to injuries. If you feel pain that’s sudden, sharp, or doesn’t start improving after a few days, it could be a sign you’re actually injured and should see a doctor.
If you’re just looking to stretch out your tight shoulders, try the stretches below from Walker, Giordano, Rachel Prairie (corporate personal trainer and programming specialist at Anytime Fitness), and Jacque Crockford, M.S., C.S.C.S. (exercise physiology content manager at American Council on Exercise). They target both the shoulders and surrounding muscles, like those in the neck, chest, and back, which all can contribute to tightness. Pick a few and add them to your recovery routine a few times a week or when you feel like you need them.
Modeling the moves is Caitlyn Seitz, a New York-based group fitness instructor and singer/songwriter.