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If you’re experiencing shoulder stiffness or pain, let’s discuss the best way to differentiate between the two so that you can properly address the problem. To determine if your shoulder is stiff or in pain, we’ll first need to go over what is considered normal motion.

Normal Shoulder External Rotation

To understand the term “stiff,” we need to first define what range of motion is considered normal for a shoulder. A healthy shoulder should be able to form a 90-degree angle into external rotation (see video above) and then go slightly beyond that. So, if your arm cannot reach that point or experiences pain when trying, it would be classified as stiff or possibly painful.

The Tight and Stiff Shoulder

So a stiff shoulder, one that can’t reach back and break the 90-degree plane, may come up short. If you only feel a little amount of tightness in that position and it is located near the front of your shoulder joint, then you probably have a stiff shoulder. If you think you have a stiff shoulder and want to work on it, the first question you should ask yourself is what are your goals? If you don’t require much range of motion in this area, there’s no need to do anything about your stiff shoulder. But if it’s preventing you from doing something important related to training for a sport like an overhead squat or a push press, then perhaps a shoulder mobility stretch would help. And if the mobility is different or tighter from the opposite side, you might want to perform some stretches to loosen up that area.

The Painful Shoulder

So now we need to differentiate that shoulder stiffness from pain. Generally, a shoulder that is painful, but not stiff at all will not reach its full range of motion. Instead of just being front-side tightness, you may be suffering from shooting pains down your arm, in you shoulder joint, inward towards your bicep or up into the upper trap region. The pain can be sharp, but it can also be dull. When you stop performing the motion, that pain might linger. These are indicators that you have shoulder pain and need to address it right away before beginning to stretch the area. If you continue to stretch something that is actually painful, you’re pulling on inflamed structures which will make matters worse.

Get Help For Your Stiff or Painful Shoulder

You’re welcome to contact us if you’re having difficulty with shoulder stiffness or discomfort. At Peak Physiotherapy and Performance, we’ve created a free resource 7 Ways to Ease Neck and Shoulder Pain just for people struggling to get out of pain for stiffness. Check out our website or speak with one of our doctors by filling out our Free Phone Consultation form.

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