When we think of poor posture, we often think of a hunched back or slumped shoulders. But there's yet another sign: uneven shoulders.
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If you find the front of your shoulder is more pronounced than the back or that your right shoulder is stronger than your left, here's how to fix uneven shoulders with stretching and strengthening exercises.
Why Is One Shoulder Higher Than the Other?
One possible cause of uneven shoulders is a muscle imbalance. According to the American Council on Exercise, there are a number of reasons why muscles can be imbalanced, including repetitive motions. When the same muscles are used repeatedly for the same actions, they can become overused or remain partially contracted.
Performing exercises in a single plane of motion or exercises that are limited to a single course, for example, can cause muscle imbalances. To avoid creating this unevenness, vary your exercise program to include a variety of movements: pushing, pulling, rotating, moving sideways and rotationally.
Furthermore, maintaining poor posture can create an imbalance in the shoulders. Having weak posture could affect range of movement and eventually lead to injury. Practicing core stability exercises or pulling movements with your hands can help you maintain an upright posture.
Scoliosis can also play a major role in uneven shoulders. Scoliosis, explains Mayo Clinic, is a sideways curvature of the spine, with symptoms that include uneven shoulders, one shoulder blade appearing more prominent than the other, an uneven waist and varied hip heights.
Uneven Shoulders Exercises Without Equipment
There are several exercises you can do to combat bad posture and correct shoulder height. The UC Irvine School of Medicine suggests:
Move 1: Plank
- Start on your hands and knees with your shoulders stacked above your wrists and your hips directly above your knees.
- Step your right foot back and then your left foot to balance on your hands and toes. Your body should form a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Tuck your pelvis in to engage your core and squeeze your glutes.
- Hold this position while maintaining a neutral spine.
Move 2: Pelvic Tilt
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Flatten your back onto the mat by tightening your stomach muscles and buttocks.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then repeat 10 times and do 2 sets.
Move 3: Cat-Cow
- Start with your hands and knees on the mat.
- Breathe in and round your back, while relaxing the neck.
- While breathing out, lower your chest while looking upward.
- Return to starting position, repeat the same movement 10 times and do 2 sets.
Dumbbell Exercises for Shoulder Imbalance
Weight training is also helpful in correcting muscular imbalances. Dumbbells allow you to use both shoulders separately to move the same amount of weight, unlike barbells or weight machines, in which your stronger shoulder pulls or pushes more of the weight.
Move 1: Front Shoulder Raise
- Stand tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms straight down the front of your body and your palms facing your body.
- Exhale and lift your straight arms to the height of your shoulders.
- Inhale and lower your arms to the starting position.
- Complete 8 to 10 reps.
Move 2: Rear Deltoid Lift
- Stand tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms straight and hands at your sides.
- Lean forward from your waist and allow your arms to hang down from your shoulders with your palms facing each other.
- Bend your elbows slightly. This is the starting position.
- Exhale and press your elbows toward the ceiling to separate and lift the dumbbells.
- Inhale and return your hands to the starting position.
- Perform 8 to 10 reps.
Move 3: Lateral Raise
- Stand tall and hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms at your sides and palms facing your body.
- Exhale and lift your straight arms out to your sides to shoulder height.
- Inhale and lower arms to the starting position.
- Perform 8 to 10 reps.
Move 4: Side-Lying Arm Roll
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and a dumbbell in your left hand, your palm facing in toward the midline of your body.
- Raise your left arm straight toward the ceiling. Rest your right arm on the floor next to your right side.
- Lower both knees to the right side of your body.
- Keep your left hand extended as you roll your torso onto your right side until your belly button is perpendicular to the floor.
- Slowly return to your back.
- Perform 8 to 10 reps on one side before changing hands and rolling to the opposite side for the same number of reps.
How to Stand Properly
If you're experiencing one shoulder higher than the other with pain, adjusting your posture may be a good starting point for improvement. The National Health Service (NHS) of the United Kingdom suggests ways you can correct your posture.
Don't slouch in a chair: Slouching in your chair can increase the tension in your muscles and result in back and shoulder pain. Try to develop the habit of sitting correctly, which may be uncomfortable at first, but will improve as your muscles become conditioned. Exercises that improve slouching include bridges, back extensions and planks.
Some people may have what's called hyperlordosis, which is when you have an exaggerated inward lower back curve that throws the body out of alignment. The NHS recommends doing core- and butt-strengthening exercises and consciously making an effort to improve your posture by keeping your shoulders back and relaxed, weight balanced, legs straight and abdomen pulled in.
Other issues that lead to poor posture and can cause uneven shoulders are standing with a flat back, which causes muscles imbalances; leaning on one leg while standing; hunched back and "text neck," caused from hunching over a computer or cell phone too often; poking out your chin, rounded shoulders; and cradling your phone.