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massage therapy for shoulders

Shoulders are fairly complicated areas. They have a broad range of motion and perform a wide range of actions, so they need to be “open” but also have stability and support through all of those possible movements. Ideally we want to see a balance of flexibility and strength in the shoulder and surrounding muscles.

Shoulder pain and limited range of motion can stem from a number of different places and are often a layered combination of several individual issues.


Rotator Cuff Injuries

One of the most common associations people have with shoulder pain is rotator cuff injuries. Many clients with chronic shoulder problems will have experienced a rotator cuff tear in their past, perhaps as an athlete in college or during a fall.

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor) that attach to the head of the humerus (arm bone) and play a key role balancing flexibility and strength as mentioned above. They work together to keep the “ball” in the “socket” and drive the key movements of the arm.

A rotator cuff tear can contribute to a “sticky shoulder” later in life as the scar tissue that develops around the tear attempts to protect the area with thicker, stronger scar tissue. A side-effect of this added strength and protection can be a limited range of motion. Then, as the overall range of motion is diminished, the surrounding muscles can also adapt to this new limitation and become tight.


Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder or “adhesive capsulitis” could be an extreme instance of limited range of motion due to “adhesions” around the shoulder joint and in the capsule itself. Frozen shoulder is different from rotator cuff injuries in that it typically begins gradually and gets worse over time. It is also not uncommon that some kind of shoulder immobilization precedes the “freezing”. This could include a surgery that requires the arm to be in a sling for 6-8 weeks during rehab.

Frozen shoulder typically develops over time and the process can be separated into 3 stages, each lasting several months:

  1. Freezing stage: Any shoulder movement is painful and limited range of movement becomes apparent.
  2. Frozen stage: Pain may become less severe, but the shoulder becomes stiffer, and using it becomes more challenging.
  3. Thawing stage: The range of motion begins to improve over time.


Shoulder Trigger Points

Trigger points near the shoulder are yet another possibility that may be creating shoulder pain or discomfort. They can also be, and often are, combined with other issues like those described above. Trigger points in the rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor) and deltoids are a few of the trigger points that can refer pain into the shoulder.

rotator cuff trigger points

deltoid trigger points


Limited Shoulder Blade Mobility

Yet another potential contributor to shoulder pain is limited mobility of the scapula (shoulder blade). The scapula is a busy intersection! There are 17 muscles that attach to the shoulder blade, which together, facilitate a wide range of motion throughout the arm. General muscle tension or adhesions in various combinations of any these 17 muscles can prevent the shoulder blade from moving freely, which may create a domino effect and influence other areas nearby.


Treatment for Painful, Sticky Shoulders

The shoulder joint, rotator cuff, and scapula all come together to form a dynamic system that allows for both strength and a wide range of movement. When the shoulder doesn’t move properly and/or becomes painful, it can easily interfere with simple daily tasks. Getting dressed can be extremely challenging when the shoulder is compromised!

The sources of shoulder pain listed above can all play off of each other and if not treated early, bring that dynamic system to a halt. Some of the best medicine is movement. “Motion is lotion” as they say. But when that movement becomes too sticky or painful, massage therapy can provide pain relief and increase range of motion.

Massage Therapy Reviews for Shoulder Pain

 5 star review I have chronic neck and shoulder pain due to the work that I do so Zach tailored the massage to meet my specific needs. With his knowledge and expertise on the body and muscles he was able to target the source of my pain and alleviate it. I am super happy and will definitely be back!”  ~ Jenn Meyer, Hair Stylist

 5 star review “I can definitely attest to the benefits of your treatments. The half hour you worked on my shoulder was painless and super beneficial. Chronic pain addressed and banished!” ~ Hannah Desmond, Wedding Officiant

 5 star review “Zach is a highly professional and skilled massage therapist. On my first visit to his office he put me at ease immediately. I explained I had shoulder pain, he asked several questions, asked me to do some arm movements and assessed my problem quickly. His body work is comforting, healing and professional. I highly recommend you visit Zach’s office for a great therapeutic massage.” ~ Sherrie D.