The secret to being able to reach overhead again – fix overhead shoulder pain

By stephdorworth

July 20, 2021

shoulder pain

shoulder pain
shoulder pain

Intro: Fix overhead shoulder pain

Does it hurt to reach overhead into a cabinet? Have shoulder pain when getting dressed and sliding a shirt on? Or are you unable to do an overhead press at the gym because of the pinching pain?

Shoulder pain with an overhead press motion is extremely common. As a physical therapist, I saw many, many patients with this complaint. The cause can vary (i.e. impingement, bursitis, tendinopathy, tears, frozen shoulder, nerve compression, tight muscles).

3 Steps to fix shoulder overhead pain: assess your range, mobilize your shoulder, and modify activities and exercise. 

Those are the 3 topics we will cover in today’s blog so that you can fix overhead shoulder pain and be able to reach overhead again, with less discomfort.

Before we can dive deeper into those things though, you must first understand the shoulder joint a little better.

overhead shoulder pain

Shoulder Actions

The shoulder does all these actions:


The motion required to reach forward and then up overhead is called shoulder flexion. To achieve that motion, the shoulder joint and deeper structures must allow it. Then you must also have enough flexibility in the latissimus dorsi muscle (aka lats) that spans the entire back and good thoracic extension and scapular mobility.

Assess your Shoulder Flexion Overhead

Now that you know what motion is required to reach overhead, now let’s assess how much shoulder flexion you have on each arm.

Begin standing facing sideways at a mirror (or in front of your camera). While keeping your abs engaged and your spine in neutral (no back bending or arching allowed), slowly raise one arm forward and then up overhead as far as you can while keeping the elbow straight.

Either take a photo or look in the mirror to assess how much flexion you have in that arm. You’d want to measure it from 0-180 degrees. See the photo below for reference. Repeat on the other arm.

shoulder pain

How is your range of motion?

If you have <170-180 degrees in either arm, then you’ve got some work to do.


Mobilize your Shoulders for Overhead Motion

What can you do to increase your shoulder flexion range of motion? Mobility.

Unless you have a shoulder stability issue and you had a dislocation or subluxation injury, then mobility is likely your answer to improved motion and decreased pain.

In the previous blog post [See Related: Stop Stretching - try mobility instead], I went into depth about what mobility is and why it’s superior to static stretching. If you didn’t read that blog, read it here as it’s worth your time to ensure you know what mobility is before practicing it.

I’ve compiled the top 5 mobility exercises to work on overhead shoulder mobility. See them in action in the video below! I suggest you practice these 4-6x/week.

Exercises: Aim for 10-15 reps of each (on both arms).

Mission: Mobilize, Modify, Move

We’ve discussed how mobility can help you improve your overhead shoulder flexion range of motion, flexibility, and control. You’ve got some mobility exercises to add into your routine. So hopefully you’ll have better mobility in no time. 

But until then.... You may need to modify your strength training routine because overhead exercises may be painful or impossible right now.

How can you modify them?

Well I could go into detail here, but I have something even better - an entire blog about it!

Read: How to Train Around Overhead Press Shoulder Pain.

In that blog, I teach you the difference between a horizontal push exercise and a vertical push exercise. Until you have full shoulder flexion ROM, you may need to do mostly horizontal push exercises or incline presses. Better to modify than using bad form or be in severe discomfort. Exercise should be enjoyable and feel good - let’s make it that way.

I also share 5 completely different mobility exercise options, so now you have 10 total to choose from. 

Once you improve your shoulder mobility, you’ll be able to move better and therefore return to the daily and sports-related activities you enjoy! And that’s the entire reason I write these blogs. Nothing makes me happier than helping you all get to be as active as you want to me.


If you find these mobility exercises helpful and want to learn even more about mobility, then stay tuned for the launch of Applied Mobility. It’s an online course and mobility program that I’ve been working on all year for you all based on your request. With 7 modules, 12 self-assessments, 232 mobility exercises, bonus modules and workouts you’ll become a mobility pro and be able to move and recover better than ever!

Applied Mobility will become available here on this website on July 27, 2021 so check back then. Or subscribe to the website now to get launch updates and be the first to enroll. Those of you who enroll during launch week will receive even more bonuses and special offers - they’re incredible deals! Don’t miss out!

Thanks for reading!


overhead shoulder pain
overhead shoulder pain
overhead shoulder pain
overhead pain




About Dr. Steph

Six-figure freelance leader and media creator in Phoenix, Arizona energized by seeing you spark your passions into paid gigs freelancing.

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