• Evolution PT

To Lift Overhead, or Not to Lift Overhead pt. 1: Mobility

by TJ Hendrickson, DPT, OCS >> Request an Appointment


Common themes we see in patients and clients, particularly those who lift overhead, who come into the clinic with shoulder and/or neck pain often display some combination of reduced shoulder range of motion, shoulder and scapular (shoulder blade) muscle weakness and lack of middle and upper back mobility. Any one of these issues can contribute to impaired upper extremity mechanics and compensatory strategies, which often leads to overload and injury.


When setting out to include overhead lifting in your strengthening routine, or simply lifting your kids overhead, you must be sure your mobility and strength are adequate enough to support the task. Below are a few exercises that can help you to assess for deficits and improve overhead range of motion if needed. These mobility movements will set the table for strengthening the shoulder in the overhead position.


In the presence of pain, make sure to always have an evaluation by your PT to have a routine tailored to your unique restrictions.


Thoracic Extension Over Foam Roll (10-15 sec hold, progressing to 30-60 sec hold, few min total)

Lying on your back, place foam roll horizontally just below your shoulder blades. Place hands behind your head to support head/neck. Keeping knees bent and buttocks on ground, slowly relax back over the foam roll to feel stretch in middle/upper back. Hold stretch and progress the count as tolerated. Repeat for a few minutes, making small adjustments to the roll position to target different areas of the middle back.



Kneeling Shoulder Flexion Stretch (5-10 sec hold, progressing to 30-60 sec hold, few min total)

In kneeling position, place hands on foam roll (you may use ottoman or couch if you don't have access to a roll). Keep elbows straight and slowly lower chest towards floor to feel shoulder stretch. Breathe in and out deeply, allowing chest to sag deeper to increase stretch. Hold stretch and progress the count as tolerated. Aim for a few minutes of stretching with short breaks between reps. As your shoulder mobility improves, move arms in closer to your ears/head.



Lying Shoulder Stretch (5-10 sec hold, progressing to 30-60 sec hold, few min total)

Lying flat on back with knees bent and feet flat on floor, clasp hands with elbows straight. Slowly lower arms back, trying to rest entire arm on floor. While arms are on floor, make sure to keep lower back flat on floor. Be sure to avoid arching back to compensate for shoulder tightness. Hold stretch and progress the count as tolerated. Aim for a few minutes of stretching with short breaks between reps. If you have full range of motion, you should be able to rest arms comfortably on floor with elbows straight and back flat.



Try these out and let us know what you think!

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