How to Stretch Your Supraspinatus

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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 Also Known As: Upper back muscle

Targets: Arms and shoulders

Equipment Needed Table, chair, towel

Level: Beginner

The supraspinatus is an upper back muscle that aids in shoulder abduction and stabilization. It’s also one of the four shoulder muscles that makes up the rotator cuff, helping to lift your arm away from the side of your body.

Stretching the rotator cuff is important for stabilizing the muscles surrounding the shoulders and upper back, improving posture, and reducing head and neck pain. The supraspinatus is a muscle that is also at high risk for injury, especially during strenuous repetitive activities such as swimming or painting areas of your house. If your supraspinatus lacks flexibility, you could be at increased risk for impingement syndrome, which is an overuse injury that can lead to tenderness, swelling and a limited range of motion, as well as shoulder pain.

Fortunately, stretching the supraspinatus can easily be done standing in a gym setting or at home. These moves are best performed after five to seven minutes of light cardio activity, such as brisk walking or jogging.


These moves target the upper back and shoulder muscles known as the supraspinatus. As previously mentioned, it’s key for stabilizing these muscles, improving posture, and reducing head and neck pain, all of which can help you feel less stressed and, in turn, be more productive in your everyday life.  

Step-by-Step Instructions

1. Pendulum Exercise

  • Stand adjacent to a bench, table, or another surface, placing your left hand lightly on top of it for support.
  • Keeping your spine straight, lean forward from your waist.
  • Let your right arm hang freely in front of you and relax your right arm and shoulder completely.
  • Gently move your right arm forward and backward, back and forth from side to side, and around in a circle.
  • Repeat with your left arm.

2. Single-side Stretch

  • Stand with your arms relaxed at your sides.
  • Attempt to grasp your right wrist with your left hand behind your back. If you have difficulty and cannot reach it, toss a towel over your left shoulder and grasp that instead.
  • Use your right hand to grab your wrist or the towel behind your back, while relaxing your neck and tilting your head to the left for added intensity.
  • Continue holding your wrist the towel behind you from both ends and use your left hand to pull your wrist or the towel up your back, keeping your right shoulder relaxed.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat up to four times before switching sides.

3. Double Shoulder Stretch

  • Standing with a straight spine, stretch your right and left shoulders at the same time by placing your hands on your hips with your palms facing outward and your fingers pointing back.
  • Press the backs of your hands against your hips and slowly move your elbows forward until you feel a bit of tension behind your shoulders.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds before returning your elbows to the original position and relaxing.
  • Repeat up to four times.

4. Seated Stretch

  • Sit on a stable chair or bench with a firm surface.
  • Bend your right elbow at a 90-degree angle, positioning the arm in front of you with the below lying across your lower ribcage.
  • Send your left upper arm under your right upper arm and reach up with your left hand to grab your right thumb.
  • Relax your right arm and shoulder, lightly pulling your right thumb toward the right, while rotating your right arm out.
  • Hold for up to 30 seconds, relax briefly and repeat up to four times before switching to your other shoulder.

Common Mistakes

Be sure to breathe deeply and evenly while also relaxing your face, neck and shoulder muscles.

Modifications and Variations

If you struggle to reach your hands in the single-side stretch, modify by holding a towel.

Safety and Precautions

If you feel any pinching, numbness or pain while doing any of these stretches, stop and move out of the stretch you’re performing.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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