Scapular stabilization exercise for shoulder pain and stress

Rotator cuff tendonitis, bursitis, and impingement are the most common causes of shoulder pain, and often stem from forward head and shoulder posture. When we feel stressed, fatigued, or anxious, we are more likely to unconsciously tense up into this harmful posture. When the shoulders ride up and forward towards the ears, and the chin juts forward, rotator cuff tendons get squeezed against the underside of the bony hook (“acromion”) at the top of the shoulder blade, causing inflammation and risking tendonitis, bursitis and impingement.

While reading this article, take a moment to strengthen and retrain the scapular stabilization muscles in your upper back to hold your shoulders in optimal posture with this simple exercise:


1. Sit or stand up straight–as if you were being pulled up by a rope hooked to the top of your head.

2. Squeeze your shoulder blades down and back towards your spine, as if you were trying to crack an egg placed between the lower corners of your shoulder blades.

3. Tuck your chin straight back (your eyes should stay on the level).

4. Breathe! Feel your ribcage and shoulder blades move with each inhalation and exhalation.

5. Note how you feel…doesn’t sitting up straight feel instantly more alert and focussed, more confident, less stressed, and more energetic? (In contrast, forward head-and-shoulder or “slouch” posture feels tired, stressed, anxious, distracted, or beaten down).


Mind-body relationships are a two-way street: by holding our posture, moving and acting as if we feel good, especially when we feel bad, the physical body can change how our mind feels. This is one of the secrets of yoga and taiji–by taking our physical bodies through a series of graceful, flowing motions, we can free up our minds and emotions to do the same. In this exercise, the unconscious mind responds to an alert, upright posture that it associates with feeling good–and brings our emotions into line with our physical body.

Later on, if you find your shoulders riding up towards your ears and your chin jutting forward, simply repeat the exercise! Likewise, if you start feeling stressed and tense, take stock of your posture…where are your shoulders? If they’re hunching up again, take a moment to relax, breathe, and repeat the above exercise. You can’t overdo this one…