Learn how to effectively stretch your shoulders with this movement

For almost 10 years, I have lived with chronic neck and shoulder pain. While not present 100 percent of the time, my right upper deltoid, which runs down to my trapezius and the base of my neck, has been plagued with such a stubborn knot that even a deep-tissue massage can’t fully resolve it. It’s a deep, throbbing tightness that, in some cases, hurts so bad it feels like it’s burning or scratching its way over my shoulder and down to my collarbone.

Whenever long hours at my desk exacerbate the pain, I can fight back with short sessions with my Theragun Mini, longer bouts with my HigherDose Infrared PEMF mat (which helps a lot if I really do it daily), and I’ll try any stretch that promises relief on Instagram. While all of these methods can help relieve my shoulder pain, there is one stretch in particular that has been surprisingly beneficial. Let me introduce you to this cheat-focused PNF stretch, maybe it can help you too.

What is a PNF stretch and why does it help?

According to massage therapist Rachel Pantano, if your shoulders are very tight and sore, performing a trap-focused PNF stretch every day can soften tension to help relieve aches and pains.

“PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation,” explains Pantano. “It is a stretching technique that involves alternating cycles of muscle contraction and relaxation to improve flexibility and promote muscle relaxation or release.”

While there are full-body PNF stretches, the version that works best for knotted shoulders targets the traps.

“This PNF stretch for the upper trapezius muscle works by combining muscle activation and subsequent relaxation,” says Pantano. “The initial contraction activates the upper trapezius muscle, while the subsequent relaxation allows for a deeper stretch. This cycle reduces the tightness”.

How to perform the PNF stretch for your traps

Pantano says this stretch can be helpful for anyone experiencing upper trapezius tightness or chronic pain in the neck and shoulders. Sounds familiar? To reap the rewards of a cheat-focused PNF stretch, follow the steps below.

  1. Hold a dumbbell or weight in the hand on the affected side. (If both shoulders are tight, only do one at a time, then repeat on the other side.)
  2. Shrug your heavy shoulder toward your ear. Hold here for 10 seconds to activate the upper trapezius, Pantano says.
  3. Relax and return your shoulder to a neutral position.
  4. With your arms at your sides, tilt your head toward the opposite shoulder to feel a stretch on the affected side.
  5. Perform two to three repetitions on each side.

As simple as it sounds, this slow crunch-stretch sequence can dissipate intense shoulder pain for long-lasting relief. “You can incorporate this PNF stretch into your regular stretching routine,” says Pantano. “Start with two to three reps on each side and gradually increase the number of sets as your body adjusts.” Just be sure to listen to your body and avoid overreaching, as that could cause more pain, he warns.

Craving more? Try this 15-minute stretching session on the shoulders:

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