Rounded shoulders: what you can do to fix them

Rounded shoulders are most common in those who have been working many hours at their desk without rest. Are you someone who slouches when sitting for long periods? Do you look down at your phone a lot of the time? Chances are you may have or maybe developing rounded shoulders.

This means that your shoulders are rolling inwards towards your chest. If this is the case, often you will also find the thoracic spine (the spine of your upper back) more hunched over (known as ‘thoracic kyphosis’) and your head/neck in a forward position rather than vertically upright.

Whilst you may be tolerating this position at the moment, the posture itself is not ideal and can limit the movement in your neck, upper chest and shoulders. It may also lead to future problems such as stiffness, muscle tightness, pain, and conditions like shoulder impingement.

Therefore, it is important to fix this before it gets any worse!

How to fix rounded shoulders with exercise

Scapular Stability Exercises

The scapula (shoulder blade) is the triangular-shaped bone attached to the upper back portion of your rib cage and assists with your shoulder position and movements. An imbalance or weakness of muscles around your scapula can cause your shoulder to move out of its normal position, which occurs in rounded shoulders.

Therefore, exercises that work on scapular stability and strengthening can help bring your shoulders back into a neutral position.

Here is an exercise you can try:

Shoulder Rows: hold the ends of an elastic band with your elbows straight and palms facing down. Start off by opening up your shoulders, drawing your shoulder blades backwards. Slowly pull your arms down by your sides. Hold for 3 seconds before returning to the starting position. 

Pec Stretching

When your shoulders are in that rounded position, this causes the front of your chest to constrict and the muscles, commonly known as “pecs”, to tighten. To bring your shoulders back into a neutral position, these muscles need to be lengthened.

Here is an example:

Pec Stretch Against Wall: find the edge or corner of a wall. Place your forearm against the wall with your arm raised at 90°. Lean forwards with your body until you feel a stretch across your chest.

Thoracic Mobility Exercises

Your thoracic spine may stiffen up as a result of rounded shoulders and can adopt a more hunched position (thoracic kyphosis), which will affect your spine mobility. In order for our bodies to move most effectively, we need to have good mobility in all segments of the spine.

To achieve this, you can perform some simple thoracic spine mobility exercises. Here is an example:

Thoracic Extension: place your foam roller on the floor and lie on your back on top with the roller at the level of your shoulder blades. With your hands behind your head, lower your head to the floor until you feel a stretch in your upper back.

Postural Correction

Sitting or standing with a better posture is the best way to go to avoid getting rounded shoulders. To do this, make sure your entire spine is in a neutral position (have your back nice and straight and your chin in a level position) and keep your shoulders drawn back to prevent them rolling inwards to your chest. If you’re working in a sitting job, modifying the environment around you (mouse, keyboard, desk/chair height) can help optimise your posture.

We hope this blog has provided you with some tips to fix rounded shoulders. Remember, prevention is just as important as treatment. So once your shoulders are back in a normal position, don’t forget to work on your posture! If you need help, book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists or exercise physiologists.

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