Rehabilitation & Recovery

4 Best Foam Shoulder Roller Exercises To Relieve Muscle Pain

shoulder roller exercises

Stiff muscles to the neck and shoulders are extremely common and can be caused by a number of factors such as hunching over a desk at work or heavy lifting at the gym. If left untreated this can lead to upper back pain and other sore muscles, even reducing your range of motion to the shoulder joint.

So, what’s one of the best ways of releasing tension to these tight areas?

foam rolling

This is where the benefits of shoulder roller exercises come into play. A foam roller is a large cylinder made of solid foam, they can vary in density with some being smooth and others are textured having bumps or ridges which allow for more of a deep tissue massage of the fascia.

A foam roller will allow you to use your body weight to apply pressure to certain muscle groups by way of self-myofascial release exercises. Regular use can be a great way of alleviating tension to muscle tissue and fascia and offers a host of other benefits.

What Are The Benefits Of Foam Roller Exercises

Whilst this article will focus around foam roller exercises to the shoulders and other connective tissue, it’s important to know that a foam roller can be used on pretty much any tight spots to release tension. Research has shown that this form of self-massage is beneficial as both a pre-workout warm up and ideal post training to help reduce recovery time.

Here are some benefits to be had by foam rolling.

Reduced Risk of Injury

Prior to any exercise, foam rolling of the muscles will warm them up. This in turn can increase range of motion making any chance of injury during training less likely to occur.

Relieves Muscle Tension

Muscle stiffness along with delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) are common, especially after intense workouts. By incorporating foam rolling both pre and post training will not only reduce any chance of injury, but it will also help the muscles to repair quicker. This is due to an increase in both blood and oxygen to the target areas.

Recommended Reading – 5 Ways To Overcome Lower Back Pain While Squatting During Workouts

Remember, this doesn’t just apply to people who work out. If you spend large parts of your day sitting at a desk you may notice yourself hunching over. Overtime, this can cause low back pain and soreness to the neck and shoulders. This can cause muscle adhesions, also known as knots, to the surrounding areas. Foam rolling to these trigger points can help to break up soft tissue adhesions therefore reducing pain and inflammation.

Improved Mobility

Sedentary lifestyles and insufficient exercise can have an impact on your mobility and may result in you waking up stiff or feeling less than agile when it comes to performing day-to-day tasks. Decreased mobility can also impact the efficiency of a workout. Feeling stiff and tense will prevent you from completing exercise routines efficiently.

Furthermore, compromised mobility can result from lower back stiffness, shoulder pain, joint stiffness, etc., usually caused by poor posture. For best results you could combine foam rolling with dynamic stretching to really loosen up muscle fibers.

Better Blood Flow

Another benefit of using a foam roller is that it increases blood flow and, by doing so, improves overall cardiovascular health. Good circulation is very important as it carries oxygen to vital injuries and helps to keep the heart healthy.

Improved Posture

Nowadays, many of us spend hours sitting in front of a computer screen at work or home. Our lifestyles do not always leave enough time for exercise that helps with posture, such as yoga or Pilates. Consequently, ailments such lower back pain, upper back or shoulder stiffness, and neck pain are growing problems.

Recommended Reading – 7 Best Lower Trap Exercises For Posture And Improved Body Positioning

Incorporating foam rolling into your day can relieve tight muscles, thereby reducing our tendency to hunch over. This is because, breaking up of knots can help to improve joint range of motion.

Best Shoulder Roller Exercises

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Shoulder rolling is proven to be therapeutic and alleviates chronic shoulder pain. However, before beginning your shoulder roller exercise routine, ensure you adhere to the following to get the most out of your foam rolling sessions.

  • Roll with cross-fiber pressure. Rolling the muscle fascia in different directions will allow for better break up of adhesions. This is because muscle fibers run in different directions.
  • Don’t roll over injured areas of the body. An injury isn’t necessarily caused by muscle tension and rolling over injured parts of the body can exacerbate any pain and inflammation.
  • Roll slowly. Foam rolling can be uncomfortable but rolling backwards and forwards in a seesaw like motion will encourage better release of muscle tension.
  • Don’t tense up. As mentioned, foam rolling can be a little painful. This means that tensing up is a natural response to that pain. However, this can limit the effectiveness of the foam rolling.
  • Don’t roll over tendons and bones. Tendons and bones don’t contract like muscles do and rolling over them can cause injury.
  • Don’t roll over the lower back unless instructed by a physical therapist. There is little bone protection to the organs residing in the lower body and leaving them exposed to injury when too much pressure is applied from foam rolling

Recommended Reading – 8 Worst Rotator Cuff Tear Exercises To Avoid

Best Foam Roller Exercises for Shoulder Pain

Neck Warm Up Exercise

This is good exercise to warm up the neck muscles. If you find you have pain on one side, you can simply position your head, so it faces off to the side allowing you to target specific pain points.

  1. Stand upright with your back to the wall.
  2. Position a foam roll so it sits between your neck and the wall.
  3. The roller should sit comfortably within the natural curve of your neck.
  4. Position your feet so they are slightly out in front of you. This is your starting position.
  5. Slowly, lower yourself down so that the roller rolls slightly to the top of your neck.
  6. Slowly, return to the starting position by standing back upright allowing the roller to roll down the neck.

Aim to complete 15 repetitions.

Floor Based Shoulder Stretch

  1. Place your foam roller on the floor.
  2. Lie down on the foam roller so that’s it’s vertical along your spine and your shoulder blades are either side of the roller.
  3. Ensure your tailbone is down towards the bottom of the roller and your head is supported near the top of the foam roller.
  4. Maintain a neutral pelvis position and keep your feet positioned around shoulder width apart.
  5. Place your arms straight out in front of you so your hands face the ceiling, keep your palms facing each other.
  6. Without rounding your back, raise both arms up towards the ceiling as high as possible.
  7. Lower the arms back down until the shoulders essentially hug the roller before repeating around 10 repetitions.

Suboccipital Release Exercise

  1. Start by placing your foam roller on the floor.
  2. Lie down and position the roller in the curve of your neck, making sure that it feels comfortable.
  3. Keeping your knees bent, feet on the floor and arms down by your side, slowly lower your chin to your chest.
  4. Once you’ve gone as low as is comfortable raise the chin back up. Repeat for 10 repetitions.
  5. Then slowly rock your head from side to side. Repeat this second movement for 10 repetitions.

Underarm Shoulder Exercise

  1. Lie on the side and position yourself onto one side and place the roller under the armpit of the arm closest to the floor.
  2. Keep your arm closest to the floor vertically aligned with your body, make sure it stays on the ground with your palm facing up.
  3. Slowly rotate your body forwards and then backwards, this will help to alleviate tightness to the shoulder muscles.

If your neck becomes tired during the exercise, use the hand of your free arm and place this between your head and shoulder for support.

Choosing A Foam Roller

shoulder blades

As foam rolling can be uncomfortable to begin with, choosing one that will suit your needs and your targeted area is something to consider.

Choosing According To Density

The density will ultimately determine the effectiveness. The firmer the roller, the more pressure will be applied during the exercise. For first timers, it is best to start with a softer roller and increase the density as you go along.

As your technique improves and your muscles become accustomed to the exercises, you can increase in density.

The time to replace your roller will be evident as the softer rollers are usually less durable. Some brands have different colors according to roller density.

Choosing Surface Texture

Smooth rollers: A smooth surface foam roller will apply even pressure down the length of the roller and are best suited to those just starting out with foam rolling.

Textured rollers: The ridges and bumps on some foam rollers imitate the feeling of being given a deep tissue massage and can provide excellent pain relief for sore muscles.

Choosing Shape And Size

Foam Roller Length

Foam rollers come in different sizes to accommodate different exercises

Long rollers are around 36 inches. These are rather versatile and the optimal choice for your first foam roller.

These work well for back exercises as they support your entire spine. They’re also more stable for quads and hamstrings.

Shorter rollers are around 24 inches and are most suitable for targeting specific areas such as the arms of calf muscles.

Foam Roller Diameter

The standard diameter of a foam roller is usually 5 or 6 inches. There are, however, rollers that have a 3 or 4-inch diameter, which provide a more targeted massage to smaller muscles.


Foam rolling has advocates among many health professionals and personal trainers, who have incorporated foam rolling into their daily or weekly workout routines.

The benefits of foam rolling have been noticed by many, not just those in the fitness industry, and offers clear benefits for those who suffer from muscle pain or tension encountered from daily activities and poor posture.

Incorporating foam rolling into your week for 15 to 20 minutes a time, can promote well-being and relaxation. Therefore, the shoulder roller exercises are a worthwhile addition to your routine.

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