Whether stress, repetitive motion or slumping at your desk causes it, a knot in a shoulder can be excruciating. Medical diagrams depicting pictures of muscle knots may pinpoint where your problematic trigger points are. Basic stretches that engage your neck, back and shoulders can also help.
Work an Overhead Side Stretch
Start in a seated position on the floor, with one leg extended slightly to the side, and the other leg bent so that the foot rests against the straight leg's inner thigh. Bend your torso to lean sideways in the direction of the straight leg, with your opposite arm raised up and over your head, with your elbow bent.
The American Council on Exercise recommends that as you do the sideways stretch, you should focus on pulling your shoulders backward and "pinching" them together. In addition, pull your chest upwards. You should feel the pull in your shoulders as you stretch sideways. Hold the pose up to 2 minutes, then reverse your position and bend in the opposite direction.
Try a Chair Stretch Variation
Chair yoga stretches may be more comfortable for you than ones in which you're seated on the floor. In addition, the chair centers you so that you can do some hand variations that extend the stretching of your shoulder muscles. Take mental pictures of muscle knots to help target where you need to stretch the most.
As you bend sideways in your chair, your fingers should point toward the direction in which your bending. As you straighten back up, rotate your hand so that your palm is facing in the other direction.
Do a Shoulder Towel Stretch
Stretching your shoulders by grasping a towel behind your back is another way to ease upper body tension and deal with a knot in your shoulder. Mayo Clinic notes that the towel stretch is particularly good for tight muscles that may be caused by sports activities requiring overhead throws or serves.
Start with a bath-size towel that you've rolled up tightly. Hold the towel behind your back, with your top hand just behind the top of your head and your lower hand around the small of your back. The towel should be held tautly between your hands.
Next, begin pulling the towel upward with your top hand. Leave enough tension so that the shoulder of the arm holding the lower part of the towel feels the pull. Keep this resistance for 30 seconds, then switch positions in order to work the opposite shoulder.
Mix It up With Cardio
Along with traditional stretching, cardio exercise can also have a loosening, warming effect on sore shoulder and neck muscles. According to the Cleveland Clinic, aerobic workouts also ease knots by improving circulation throughout your body, delivering blood to those knotted areas.
To work knots in your shoulders, focus on workouts that engage your upper body. Good ones to try include swimming, paddling and jumping jacks. Be aware, however, that repetitive motions can also cause knots in the shoulder. Mixing up activities can help prevent this problem.
Take a Multi-Faceted Approach
If stretching isn't enough to chase away shoulder knots, making other adjustments that deal with underlying causes may help. Massage and heating pads can help release tension from your muscles.
A physical therapist may also recommend ultrasound therapy, in which sound waves help get blood flowing. Talk therapy and prescription medication may also help address issues that make you anxious to the point of tensing your body repeatedly.