The shoulder joint is contained within a capsule composed of a number of types of connective tissue that may be prone to tightness in athletes. Overhead athletes -- those competing in sports like volleyball, baseball, swimming, tennis, or softball -- experience frequent capsular patterns that include a restricted posterior shoulder capsule after competition and a generally restricted inferior capsule says manual therapist Peter Brukner, author of "Clinical Sports Medicine." Stretching exercises for the shoulder can help maintain shoulder health or restore proper function following injury.
The sleeper stretch is used commonly after an overhead sporting activity, particularly one that involves high velocities and lower resistance that occurs in baseball throwing and volleyball striking. Over the course of a game or practice, the posterior shoulder complex becomes shortened, and this reduced range of motion persists at least a day longer, according to 2008 research led by Dr. Mike Reinold, the head physical therapist for the Boston Red Sox. Improve range of motion with the sleeper stretch. Begin by lying on your side with your head supported on a pillow or foam roll and your shoulders and hips stacked atop one another. Bring your bottom arm to 90 degrees, perpendicular to your torso with the elbow flexed so that the forearm points directly toward the sky. Gently rotate your arm so that your hand moves away from your head, placing a stretch on your posterior shoulder capsule and musculature. Hold for up to 60 seconds and repeat on the other side. There will be normal differences in range of motion between right and left side, with the dominant arm typically having less visible motion, according to Reinold, so do not seek symmetry.
Sleep Stretch Pulls
A deepened stretch of the posterior shoulder capsule can be accomplished by adding two motions together. Set yourself up on your side, head supported with a pillow, and hips and shoulders stacked on top of one another. Move your bottom arm perpendicular to your torso with the elbow flexed to 90 degrees. Take your top arm and stack it atop the lower arm, grasping the elbow. Rotate your lowest arm in the direction of your feet, then gently, with the top arm, lift it across your body to stretch the back side of your shoulder capsule. You can complete a 30- to 60-second hold of this position, or do 10 to 15 repetitions of a two-second hold with a two-second rest. There will be normal differences in range of motion between right and left side, with the dominant arm typically having less visible motion, according to Reinold, so do not seek symmetry.
Inferior Capsule Wall Stretch
The inferior capsule and musculature often becomes restricted in an overhead athlete and may interfere with the proper, healthy mechanics of the shoulder. A restricted shoulder capsule may result in impingement of the rotator cuff tendons with the arm overhead, leading to an elevated shoulder on the side of restriction, and can damage the shoulder's labrum. Mobilize your inferior shoulder capsule's pain-free range of motion using the wall stretch. Stand next to a wall with your arm nearest the wall overhead. Bend your elbow as though you are attempting to place your hand on the back of your head. Lean into the wall with the bulk of your weight resting along your upper arm. You should feel a stretch in the back of your upper arm and down the side of your body. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds or perform 10 to 15 pulses of two-second stretch and a two-second rest. Repeat the stretch on your other arm.
- "Clinical Sports Medicine"; Peter Brukner, MD and Karim Khan, MD; 2005
- "American Journal of Sports Medicine"; Changes in Shoulder and Elbow Passive Range of Motion after Pitching in Professional Baseball Players; Mike Reinold, PT, DPT, ATC, SCS; March 2008
- "Optimal Shoulder Performance"; Mike Reinold, PT, ATC, DPT, SCS and Eric Cressey, MS; 2009