Improve Shoulder Function in 5 Steps

Patrick Dunham's picture
By Patrick Dunham on February 26, 2018

You probably don’t think about it very much as you go about your daily tasks, but your shoulder is pretty important.

It is one of the most complex joints in your body. It allows you to move your arm 360 degrees and it acts as a stabilizer so your bones, ligaments and muscles can all work together.

In short, it is really important. Those who experience pain in their shoulder or lose function and range of motion can tell you all about how it can negatively affect their daily lives.

Lack of exercise, poor posture and injury are all common contributors to shoulder problems. 

But “taking it easy” due to a shoulder issue does not have to become part of your vocabulary.

Below are five simple things that you can do anytime to help improve shoulder function and keep those joints, muscles, ligaments and bones happy.

Note: If you have a shoulder injury/issue or are currently working with a physical therapist, talk to your health care provider about what would work best for you and your situation before completing any exercises.

1. Don’t neglect your warm-up!

Before trying the exercises below or doing your regular workout routine, even if you are on a time crunch, take 5 to 10 minutes to perform a slow, deliberate warm-up for your entire body.

2. Practice active range of motion movements.

These exercises will help you engage the muscles that control shoulder flexion, extension, abduction and adduction.

3. Strengthen your back muscles.

Weak and/or tight back and neck muscles, including the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids, neck extensors and rotator cuff muscles, can cause a hunched, rounded shoulder posture, which can create a number of neck and spine issues. 

By strengthening your “pulling” muscles and using full range of motion, you can take control of your posture and shoulder mobility.
Perform 3 sets of 6 to 8 repetitions for each exercise.

4. Try a neutral grip when pulling and pressing.

If you have a history of shoulder pain or problems, especially when lifting weights, try using a neutral grip when pulling and pushing, instead of a pronated (outward facing) grip.

The neutral grip will allow you to keep your elbows from flaring out and keeps your shoulders in a generally safer position.

When using a neutral grip, your palms will be facing each other.

5. Hang from a bar (pronated and supinated).

When you simply hang from a bar, you not only are engaging crucial muscles that play major roles in upper body lifting, but you are also stretching muscles that tend to get tight and limit active range of motion, including latissimus dorsi, rhomboids and rotator cuff muscles.

If you cannot start out with your full body weight, use a sturdy bench or chair to assist you.

Use the bench to adjust the pressure by bending or resting on your knees. Start with 10 to 30 seconds and build up slowly.

If you have an unstable shoulder or severe osteoporosis, do not attempt this exercise.

Having healthy shoulders is just one more key to having a long, healthy and independent life.

Patrick Dunham is a clinical training manager at Carilion Wellness. Find your strength today!