Shoulder Stretches for Seniors

As we age, shoulder stretches become more and more important to maintain our range of motion. Throughout the day, think of all the situations that require your shoulder to be very mobile and flexible. Reaching for a cup on the shelf, buttoning your shirt or blouse, scratching your shoulder or back.

These basic shoulder stretches should be performed in your comfort zone unless you are an experienced exerciser. Make sure to check with your doctor if you suspect frozen shoulder. These exercises should not cause pain or numbness or tingling.

  1. Side Stretches
  2. Triceps Stretch
  3. Internal Rotation
  4. External Rotation
Watch my instructional video

The side stretch is an old favorite of just about every exercise class instructor I have even taken a class from. It involves filling the lungs with air and lifting your arms overhead, then stretching to the side. Great for improving your rib mobility and expanding your lungs. The triceps stretch when done correctly may surprise you at how tight the back of your arms have become. The external and internal rotation exercises are essential shoulder exercises. These will help maintain the small muscles of your shoulder in a flexible and stable position.

Exercise 1

Side Stretch. Begin in your chair with arms at sides. Take a breath in while bringing both arms out to the side and overhead. Exhale and bring down one of your arms. Hold this position for 10 seconds. Return to starting position. Repeat again for the other side. Keep chest lifted and arms limber. Very important to do your breathing with this exercise as it also stretches out your ribs.

Exercise 2

Triceps Stretch. Begin by holding your right and out straight with your palm upward. Bend your elbow and tap yourself on the shoulder. Bring your other hand over and scoop up and lift the elbow to stretch the triceps muscle gently. Then cross the same arm across your body for a good shoulder stretch. Repeat on the other side.

Exercise 3

External Rotation. Begin sitting in your chair. Use a towel or yardstick for this exercise. Hold the towel or yardstick a little wider than shoulder width. Gradually bring the stick or towel over your head and behind your neck. If you cannot bring it to the back of your head, simply bring it to the top of your head. Hold for 10 seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat 3 times.

Exercise 4

Internal Rotation. Using a towel or yardstick, grasp them behind your back with your hands as close as possible with palms backward. Gently bring the yardstick or towel up the back of your spine as high as comfortable. Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times.

If your arms are naturally stiff and tight, start by placing a hot pack on both shoulders to improve blood flow in increase elasticity. A good limbering program is also indicated for tight shoulders and upper back. Try swinging your arms back and forth for 5 minutes while marching in place. This is one of the simplest and most efficient limbering routines. If it is hard to hold your arms overhead, just switch your position to the bed or couch and let gravity take over and help your arms stretch overhead. This is a common method in physical therapy for shoulder stiffness.

Having a supportive chair is also important. I like armless kitchen chairs for my exercise. The arm rests on standard chairs just seem to get in the way with exercise. I like to bring my legs over the sides for several of the exercises which is impossible with armed chairs.

Using a towel or yardstick is a great prop which will assist in maintaining proper form and position while performing the internal and external exercises. With theses props you can gradually bring your arms farther and farther in the desired direction as your shoulder warm up.

Relaxing and breathing are the two most important elements to think of when performing these exercises. Practice what I call rag doll arms. Let your arms fall to the side just like Raggedy Ann Doll. I’m sure the younger generation has no idea who Raggedy Ann and Andy were.

Let me know if you have any questions or would like to see other exercises or senior fitness content. You can leave your comments and suggestions on my About Page. Need personal help? Check out my new Academy. Exercise is really your magic pill to feel better and live longer. Remember to stay active, stay strong, and stay connected!

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Doug Schrift

Doug Schrift is a Physical Therapist, Certified Geriatric Specialist, and senior fitness coach. Doug helps seniors become strong and stable even if they have never exercised before.