Waking up with stiff shoulders can throw off your entire day. The limited mobility and dull aches make it difficult to get dressed, drive, and complete other basic activities. Fortunately, you don’t have to live with chronic shoulder stiffness. With some simple stretches, exercises, lifestyle changes and treatments, you can get relief. Here are some of the most effective ways to get rid of stiff shoulders.
One of the fastest ways to loosen up tight shoulder muscles is to apply heat. Take a hot shower or bath and direct the water onto your shoulders. Allow the warmth to penetrate the muscles for 5-10 minutes. You can also place a heating pad or hot water bottle on the sore areas for quick relief. Heat boosts circulation, reduces inflammation, and promotes muscle relaxation. Just be sure not to overdo it as excessive heat can cause burns.
While heat works well for acute shoulder stiffness, ice may be a better choice if you’re dealing with chronic issues. Ice helps reduce inflammation that can develop over time from poor posture, injuries and overuse. It can also numb sore tissues. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel to painful shoulders for 10-15 minutes a few times per day. Use ice after activities that engage the shoulders. Icing too long or without a barrier can damage skin.
Stretch the Shoulders
One of the best ways to get lasting relief from stiff shoulders is to stretch them regularly. This improves mobility, increases flexibility and reduces tension. Simple stretches like shoulder rolls, arm circles and shoulder blade squeezes can be done daily. Other good options include cross-body arm stretches, underarm stretches with a towel, and doorframe stretches. Aim to stretch gently and hold the stretches for 30 seconds. Going slow and avoiding bouncing will prevent injury.
Strengthen the Shoulders
Weak shoulder muscles often contribute to stiffness and restricted range of motion. Performing strengthening exercises two or three times a week helps keep shoulders flexible and mobile. The best exercises include lateral raises, front raises, shoulder presses and rows. Using light resistance from dumbbells, resistance bands, or your own body weight, do 1-3 sets of 10-15 reps. Proper form is essential, so begin with low weight until you build muscular endurance.
Massaging the stiff, sore muscles around the shoulders can bring rapid relief. This manually applies pressure to knots and tight tissues to release tension. Schedule a therapeutic massage focusing on the upper back, neck and shoulders. A masseuse can target problem areas and work the muscles at different angles. If that’s not practical, try a self-massage with a tennis ball against a wall or foam roller. Massaging with oil or lotion makes it more comfortable.
Poor posture is one of the most common, yet avoidable, causes of shoulder stiffness. When you slouch at a desk or looking at your phone, the shoulders roll forward. This strains the muscles over time. Make a conscious effort to sit and stand tall with open chest and shoulders back. Use ergonomic office equipment and pull your shoulders down and back periodically. Better posture takes stress off the shoulders.
Get More Exercise
Getting daily physical activity keeps the shoulder joints mobile and flexible. Low impact exercises like walking, swimming and yoga improve circulation while gently working the shoulder muscles. Pilates moves that open the chest and strengthen the upper back are great too. Just listen to any pain signals. Overdoing activities too soon can aggravate the issue. Ease into regular exercise gently.
Try a Topical Analgesic
For quick relief from shoulder aches and soreness, apply an over-the-counter topical pain reliever. Look for creams, gels, sprays and patches containing ingredients like menthol, camphor, lidocaine or salicylates. These create a cooling, numbing sensation that temporarily eases discomfort. Massage the product into stiff shoulders as needed, but avoid using too much as excessive application can cause skin irritation.
Change Sleep Positions
A common cause of waking up with stiff shoulders is sleeping in positions that strain the neck and shoulders. Sleeping on your side or stomach twists the neck and strains muscles. Try sleeping on your back using a contoured pillow that supports the natural curve of your neck. Place a small pillow under your knees to prevent arching your lower back. If you’re a side sleeper, put a pillow between your knees and use a fuller neck support pillow.
In summary, stiff shoulders don’t have to weigh you down. Applying heat, ice, massage, stretching, exercising, using analgesics, improving posture and adjusting sleep positions can help you find relief. Be consistent with these remedies to keep your shoulders moving comfortably. If pain persists or limits activity, seek medical care to address any underlying conditions contributing to shoulder stiffness. With some patience and diligence, those sore, stubborn shoulders will loosen up.