Back Pain

Yoga Shoulder Stretches: 3 Moves for Pain Relief

Yoga Eases Pain in U.S. Study

Yoga’s physical, mental, and emotional benefits are often touted by the wellness community. But just how effective is it? Can doing some yoga shoulder stretches really help relieve upper back pain?

One U.S. study says that, yes, practicing yoga can help to ease pain. The trial involved 228 adults from six different cities in western Washington state. Most of the trial participants had moderate chronic back pain and good mental health. Additionally, most of the participants had been fairly active before the beginning of the trial. (1)

For the 12-week trial, the participants were randomly assigned to either participate in yoga classes, stretching classes, or a self-care book called The Back Pain Helpbook. The yoga and stretching classes were weekly and lasted for 75 minutes. Participants who were assigned to yoga or stretching classes also received instructional videos and were asked to practice at home for 20 minutes each day. (1)

To determine how helpful each method was at addressing chronic back pain, the study participants were interviewed during the study at the six- and 12-week marks. They were also interviewed six months after the study started. The interviewers didn’t know which methods the participants had been assigned. They asked participants about their back-related function and pain symptoms. (1)

Yoga and Chronic Pain

The study found that both the yoga and stretching classes were effective at easing back pain. Participants’ back-related function improved, and their pain symptoms diminished. Clinically significant results, including reduced use of pain medication, lasted at least six months. This was the last point at which participants were interviewed. (1)

While the study’s authors were at first surprised that the yoga and stretching classes produced such similar results, they realized that these classes were more related than a typical exercise class and a yoga class would be. During the stretching classes, stretches were often held for several minutes, much like they would be in a yin yoga class. (1)

Dr. Karen J. Sherman, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute, was the study leader. “People may have actually begun to relax more in the stretching classes than they would in a typical exercise class,” she said. “In retrospect, we realized that these stretching classes were a bit more like yoga than a more typical exercise program would be.” (1)

Regardless of whether you’re considering a yoga or stretching class, the study’s results can provide a source of hope for people with chronic pain who are seeking relief. “Our results suggest that both yoga and stretching can be good, safe options for people who are willing to try physical activity to relieve their moderate low back pain,” Dr. Sherman said. (1)

Yoga Shoulder Stretches for Pain Relief

The beauty of yoga is that participating in a practice tends to stretch most parts of the body. So practicing a few sun salutations might be enough to loosen up any tightness you’re experiencing in your shoulders, upper back, and neck. However, if this area is really bothering you, you may want to focus on it with a few specific poses. Try these yoga shoulder stretches to relieve tightness in the upper body. (2)

Extended Puppy Pose

Extended puppy dog pose is one of the most effective yoga shoulder stretches. From all fours, arrange your hands below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Walk your hands forward until your forearms are completely extended and resting on the ground. (2, 3)

Lower your forehead to the mat or rest it on a block or blanket. Gently press your hips back toward your heels, and allow your spine to curve slightly. Remain active through your arms and hands to press your hips further back and deepen the stretch in your shoulders. Remain in extended puppy pose for a few deep breaths, breathing into your back to bring further length to your spine. When you’re finished, transition into child’s pose by moving your knees apart, bringing your big toes together, and pressing your hips even further toward your heels. (2, 3)

Eagle Arms

Eagle arms is an amazing way to help your shoulders relax down and away from your ears. Sweep your arms out wide. Bring them back towards each other in front of your body, and cross your right elbow beneath your left elbow. Bend your elbows so your arms lift up in front of your face. Wrap your forearms around each other and bring the palms of your hands to touch each other. (4)

Lift your elbows so that they’re in line with your shoulders. Inhale and draw your shoulder blades together to enjoy expansion through your chest and a deep stretch throughout the whole of your shoulders. (4)

Supported Fish

Supported fish is a restorative yoga pose that delivers a powerful shoulder stretch. This yoga shoulder stretch requires a few props: either two yoga blocks or a bolster. (4)

If you’re using blocks, begin sitting on your yoga mat with your legs out long in front of you. Place one block at medium height and position it just under your shoulder blades, leaning back onto it. Stand the other block on its tallest height, and position it so you’ll be able to rest your head on it. (4)

If you’re using a bolster, lay it down lengthwise on your mat. Facing away from the bolster, sit on your mat with your legs out in front of you and scoot back until the bolster touches your lower back. Using your hands to support you, gently lower yourself onto the bolster until your back, neck, and head can relax onto it. (4)

With either type of prop, make any adjustments necessary so that you feel supported. Bring your arms down along your sides with the palms of your hands facing up. Draw your shoulders back to open your chest. Close your eyes and allow your muscles to relax onto your props and mat. Remain in supported fish for several minutes, allowing your shoulders and chest to open and stretch with time. (4)

Use these yoga shoulder stretches either as part of a larger yoga practice or in isolation to relieve shoulder pain and tension! Would you like to learn more about relieving chronic back pain? Click here!


  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111024164708.htm
  2. https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/anatomy/shoulders/yoga-shoulder-stretches-pain-relief/ 
  3. https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/extended-puppy-pose/ 
  4. https://www.prevention.com/fitness/workouts/a25607816/yoga-shoulder-stretches/ 


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