Shoulder Mobility Exercises (and why you should do them)

Shoulder Mobility Exercises

Mobility is undoubtedly one of the essential elements that will impact a person’s longevity and quality of life. Plenty of research supports the correlation between the loss of mobility in older adults and the onset of cognitive disease, rates of hospitalization, and the need for assisted care increase. From a more pragmatic point of view, just think about how difficult it can be to go through your daily life without using a hand or not being able to bend down. 

It’s for this reason that maintaining or recovering a healthy range of motion in the major joint groups is critical. It’s also a key part of living a healthy and fulfilling life. And one of the most effective ways to maintain healthy movement patterns is through the consistent and progressive implementation of mobility exercises in a person’s day-to-day life. 

This article covers some of the main ways in which you can take care of your shoulder mobility through the use of some basic and easy-to-do shoulder mobility exercises. 

How the shoulder moves

The shoulder is made up of several muscles and bones that work together to move the arms throughout its full range of motion. This complex skeletal and muscle structure is often referred to as the shoulder girdle.

The shoulder girdle consists of:

  • The clavicle bone
  • Scapula bone
  • Sternoclavicular joint
  • Scapulothoracic joint
  • Acromioclavicular joint
  • Glenohumeral joint

And the main movements of the shoulder girdle are:

  • Flexion
  • Extension
  • Adduction
  • Lateral rotation
  • Medial rotation

Since going into too much detail about the anatomy of the shoulder girdle is beyond the scope of this article, simply put, the shoulder girdle is responsible for helping you reach over your head, pull things towards you, push them away, rotate and extend your arms. 

The key takeaway here is to realize that the shoulder is a complex system and has many points of failure that can limit its mobility. 

Common causes of loss of shoulder mobility

There are many reasons why people can have decreased range of motion or complete loss of mobility in their shoulder. Here are some of the most common ones. 


As with most systems in the body, if you stop using it, it will eventually start atrophying, and it will cause it to not be able to lose its function. Inactivity can be the result of having to use a cast or sling for an extended period of time, a sedentary lifestyle, or poor posture. 


Falls are one of the leading causes of injury in the elderly. Oftentimes as a reaction to the fall, the person reaches out. As a result, the arm and shoulder can bruise, or a fracture can occur. Since immobilization is usually part of the recovery process, the person involved in the accident will end up with a limited range of motion when they finish the initial part of their recovery. 


Arthritis is a very common disease, in particular among the elderly. It can be caused by a variety of reasons but usually ends up causing localized inflammation, reduced mobility, and weakness in the affected area. When arthritis is manifested in the shoulder area, it often ends up in a loss of mobility in the area. 

Three exercises to improve shoulder mobility

With an area that can move in as many directions as the shoulder, you would be right in assuming that there are dozens of exercises you can do. The good news is that you don’t have to do all of them to get positive results. Here are three exercises you can start with no equipment that will be a good starting point for your shoulder mobility workout. 

Note: It’s important to always consult with your physician before starting any workout. Also, as a rule of thumb, if you experience pain during any part of the movement, you should immediately stop and look for a variation that will allow you to exercise the desired area without pain. 

Standing arm swings

Standing arm swings are an easy and equipment-free way to work on your shoulder mobility. To do this, start by standing tall and, in a controlled fashion, raise your arms over your head as far as they can go. It’s important not to use too much momentum or speed as it can cause discomfort if the area is tight. 

A variation of this exercise is to lift both of your arms to the side until they are shoulder at shoulder height. Also, you can try raising one arm at a time if you have different ranges of motion on each shoulder. This way, you can focus on getting through the movement without discomfort. 

Cross arm stretch

When we think about shoulder mobility, this is usually one of the first exercises that come to mind. To do this stretch, make sure you are standing or sitting upright and gently use one arm to pull on the other while it’s stretched across your chest. 

This stretch targets the rotator cuffs and is very effective in helping with the feeling of tight shoulders. It’s important to start applying pressure in a progressive manner and start slowly. 

The Doorway Stretch

As the name implies, to do this stretch, you’ll need to use your doorway for support. Place your arms parallel to the doorway. In a slow and progressive manner, start twisting your torso. Do so until you feel a gentle stretch across your chest. 

This exercise targets the pectoral muscles. These, when tight, prevent the shoulder from moving across its full range of motion. Tight pectoral muscles are a common occurrence in people who spend extended amounts of time sitting down or with poor posture. 

Minimize discomfort while recovering shoulder mobility

Improving or avoiding loss of mobility in the shoulder, or any other joint, such as the wrist, knee, hips, etc., is a long process. Think in terms of months and years rather than days or weeks. It’s for this reason that the right mindset and taking additional provisions that can make the process easier can help you stay on track for recovery. 

A great way is to use door knobs, such as Ultralatch, that are more ergonomic than traditional door knobs and can improve the ease with which people with wrist mobility issues or shoulder mobility issues can go about their day. 

Additionally, you should always check with your physician if there is any treatment that can help you ease into recovery. 

It is easy to get discouraged when starting to work on mobility. The process takes a long time to see results. But if you stay consistent, in time, you’ll find a decrease in pain and overall improvement in your quality of life.