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The #1 Best Exercise for Relieving Shoulder Pain, Says Science

This popular full-body move is actually great for alleviating whatever is ailing your aching shoulders.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan

Shoulder pain can be caused by a variety of things and feel different for different people. Your shoulders are important joints in your body, which means they get used a lot. Think about it: Just about every time you move your arms, your shoulders are at work.

Inside your shoulder, you have a rotator cuff, which is made up of muscles and tendons that allow for a range of movement. When you experience pain, it can mean you've damaged your rotator cuff in some way (often, a tendon is trapped under the bone). However, shoulder pain can be caused by other things too. Here's what can lead to shoulder pain and the best exercise to relieve it.

What Causes Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain can be caused by a trapped tendon (called tendonitis), arthritis, a bone spur, a pulled muscle, or even just general overuse. If you've recently started working your shoulders out at the gym more, you might feel some soreness from tapping into muscles that haven't been used in a while. (That's a bit different from pain, per se, but it's also something to be aware of.)

Pain can come from more serious injuries as well, though these tend to be quite obvious. Things like a dislocated shoulder, broken bone, or tear in a tendon would be excruciating and easy to pinpoint both the cause and effect.

One surprising thing that can lead to shoulder pain is poor posture, according to Penn Medicine. When you slouch, it affects your back and all the way up to your shoulders and neck, causing general discomfort. Now, slouching can come from just a bad habit, but you know what else can cause slouching? A weak core. If you're not paying attention to your core, especially if you're a fan of working out, you can actually be training your body to slouch more and thus leading to unnecessary pain. So here's what you can do.

Related: This 15-Minute Workout Can Add Years to Your Life

The Best Exercise For Shoulder Pain

Profile view of concentrated and serious young woman standing in plank pose on fitness mat, training at home
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One of the best exercises you can do for your whole body is the simple plank. Research from Harvard has linked planks to increased core strength, and a stronger midsection overall can have a positive effect on your body—including your shoulders, says a study in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. When your core is stronger, you have better posture, which can decrease the resulting shoulder pain.

You may think doing a plank puts pressure on your shoulders and would actually cause more pain, right? That could be the case if you're already experiencing pain—at which point, you shouldn't attempt any exercises that will just add to the problem. Putting pressure on injuries can cause even more damage, which is, of course, not what you want. So, if you have a torn rotator cuff, dislocated shoulder, tendonitis, or any serious injury, don't attempt any exercises. Instead, visit your healthcare provider for a proper treatment plan.

But if your shoulder pain comes and goes, performing planks can help you build strength in your core and shoulders to help counteract the problem. The best part? You can do all kinds of different plank styles—for just a minute a day—in order to see results. If you're also just starting out with planking, you can do modified ones until you've gotten stronger. Start on your knees or use your forearms. When you're stronger, do a full plank on your hands and feet. You can also do side planks to work on your oblique muscles, and even move your feet around in the plank for an added challenge.

Related: 5 Ways to Get a Six-Pack, According to a Personal Trainer

What About Stretching?

shoulder stretching-
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Stretching is also a great way to work out lingering shoulder pain, especially if it's caused by overuse of the muscles. There are plenty of yoga poses that will stretch out those shoulders, like Child's Pose, Cat Cow, and Downward Dog. Do each of these a few times very gently to ease your muscles into the poses. They'll help stretch out those muscles and warm them up to ease the pain.

As you feel where your shoulder pain is radiating from, you can also gauge where and how you want to stretch. It may just be small shoulder circle rotations to loosen up the muscles or gently pulling your arms across your body to stretch out your back. Whatever you choose to do, just do it slowly and gently to give your muscles a chance to move around without any further damage.

For more on relieving joint pain, check out these Walking Mistakes That Could Be Killing Your Knees, and How to Avoid Them.

Hedy Phillips
Hedy is a freelance writer with years of experience covering buzzy food trends, wellness, and weight loss. Read more
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