Gentle shoulder stretches are a core part of most shoulder arthritis treatment programs.

Read more about Shoulder Osteoarthritis

The stretches described below can be done once or twice a day. To avoid straining joints is important to maintain the right form and use modifications when necessary. Stretches to maintain the shoulder’s range of movement are important, but stretches to increase range of motion should be undertaken with caution, as they can result in injury.1

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Overhead Shoulder Stretch

Figure 1a: Overhead Shoulder Stretch Part 1

Figure 1b: Overhead Shoulder Stretch Part 2

  • Stand with legs shoulder-width apart.
  • Let arms hang down at each side.
  • Interlock fingers with palms facing down.
  • Keeping fingers interlocked, raise arms up and stretch them over the head with the palms facing toward the ceiling.

Watch: Video: Overhead Shoulder Stretch for Arthritis Pain Relief

Hold the stretch for 20 seconds.

Modification: Those who are unable to interlock fingers and do this stretch may hold a long pole (such as a broomstick) in both hands and raise the pole overhead, keeping the pole parallel to the floor.

Crossover Shoulder Stretch

Figure 2: Crossover Shoulder Stretch

  • Stand with legs shoulder-width apart.
  • Raise the right arm parallel to the floor and move it across the front of the body, with the upper arm coming in towards the chest.
  • Placing the left hand on the right elbow, pull the right arm further across the body.
  • The right elbow should be slightly bent, not be locked.

Watch: Video: Crossover Shoulder Stretch for Arthritis Pain Relief

Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and repeat 3 times for each arm.

Towel Shoulder Stretch

Figure 3: Towel Shoulder Stretch

  • Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hold a medium-size towel, or a stretchy exercise band, in the right hand.
  • Raise the right arm straight up and slightly behind the head, so that the towel extends down the back. (The right elbow may bend slightly.)
  • Reaching back with the left arm, grab the bottom of the towel.
  • Gently pull the towel upward with the right hand so that the left shoulder is stretched.
  • Hold for 20 seconds.
  • Next, pull the towel down with the left arm so that the right shoulder is stretched.

Watch: Video: Towel Shoulder Stretch for Arthritis Pain Relief

Repeat using opposite arms, holding the left arm above the head.


  1. Burbank K.M., Stevenson J.H., Czarnecki G.R., Dorfmon J., “Chronic Shoulder Pain: Part II. Treatment” American Family Physician. 2008 Feb 15; 77(4):493-497. Accessed September 2011 via