The problem of rounded shoulders is not going to go away.
The fact that we spend more and more time hunched in front of our computer and mobiles these days means that if anything, the problem is only going to get worse.
Rounded shoulders are a common postural problem characterized by the forward slumping of the shoulders and an exaggerated curvature of the upper back.
In this article, we’ll discuss how rounded shoulders develop, how hunched shoulders can be corrected, and simple steps you can take to correct your slumped shoulders at home.
What Causes Rounded Shoulders?
Slumped shoulders usually develop due to a muscle imbalance that causes the chest muscles to shorten and tighten, and the upper back muscles to lengthen and weaken.
While there are several reasons why such an imbalance may occur, such as a sports injury or overuse of the muscles, the most common culprit of hunched shoulders is unhealthy posture – particularly as a result of sitting at a desk for long periods of time.
When you are in front of your computer screen or mobile for long durations, you may not realise that your posture can become severely compromised.
Typically, you push your head forward (or down for mobile devices), your shoulders round, and your upper back becomes curved. Holding onto this position for hours every day is going to cause your body to adopt this hunched posture permanently.
Not only is it a very unattractive look, but it can also cause muscle imbalances around the body which will eventually affect your shoulders.
When poor posture is maintained for a prolonged period, the anterior muscles (such as the pectoralis major, pectoralis minor, and serratus anterior) tighten and shorten, while the posterior muscles (such a deltoid, mid/lower trapezius and rhomboids) lengthen and weaken.
This draws the head and shoulders forward.
This postural misalignment draws the head neck, and shoulders forward, placing extra pressure on the spine. If left untreated, studies show that this postural misalignment can lead to forward head posture (FHP) and increased thoracic kyphosis, or hunchback. Together this is known as Upper Crossed Syndrome.
Symptoms of Rounded Shoulders
In addition to affecting your appearance, having rounded shoulders can lead to a number of health issues, including:
- Chronic tension in the neck
- Neck pain
- Decreased mobility in the shoulders
- Shoulder impingement
- Shoulder dislocation
- Neck-related headaches
- Myofascial trigger points
- Reduced lung capacity
Research suggests that the forward head carriage typically associated with rounded shoulders may also be a contributing factor in secondary health problems like disk degeneration and osteoporosis due to long-term misalignment of the cervical spine.
According to one study, which was published in Physiology of the Joints, Vol. 3, for every inch that the head moves forward from its correct postural alignment, 10 pounds of stress are placed on the cervical spine as well as the muscles of the neck and upper back.
When you consider that a forward deviation of the head of just 2 inches effectively increases the weight of your head by 20 pounds, it’s easy to see why maintaining proper posture is so important.
Treatment Options for Rounded Shoulders
Rounded shoulders are usually treated with a chiropractic adjustment, physical therapy, exercise, or a combination of the three. The types of therapies included in an individual treatment plan will depend on the severity of the condition.
Below, we’ll explore each of these treatment options in further detail.
Chiropractic care is a holistic approach that involves not only spinal manipulation, but other techniques such as medical massage and soft tissue release.
Depending on the severity of the condition, chiropractic care can be administered on a short-term or long-term basis.
During a typical treatment session, the chiropractor will use his or her hands to manipulate the back, joint, and soft tissues.
Physical therapists use a variety of treatments, techniques, and physical exercises to correct rounded shoulders and restore healthy function to the affected areas of the body.
Physical therapy is carried out in a variety of settings, including private clinics, hospitals, and fitness facilities.
As part of your physical therapy treatment plan, a physical therapist will offer education on exercises that can be done at home to correct rounded shoulders, and suggest lifestyle changes to prevent further injury.
Numerous studies have confirmed the effectiveness of muscle-strengthening and stretching exercises in correcting rounded shoulders and forward head posture
Performing corrective exercises and stretches that target the chest, upper back, neck, and shoulder muscles can help correct rounded shoulders, alleviate pain, and restore a healthy range of movement to the joints.
Exercises to correct rounded shoulders are usually included in an individualized treatment plan consisting of chiropractic care and/or physical therapy.
How to Fix Rounded Shoulders On Your Own
Rounded shoulders can be corrected and prevented with postural changes and muscle-strengthening exercises that target the chest, neck, upper back, and shoulders.
Below are a few simple exercises and stretches that can be performed at home to improve posture, relieve pain, and restore healthy movement to the joints.
Note that these exercises can be done in any order and that you can pick and choose the ones that work for you. Once you learn which muscles need to be stretched and which ones need to be strengthened, you can even do your own research and find your own exercises to incorporate into a daily routine.
In summary, to correct rounded shoulders you will want to include any exercises that achieve the following:
- Stretches the pecs
- Strengthens the upper and lower traps
- Strengthens the Rhomboids
- Corrects forward head posture (neck stretches and improving the strength of the neck flexors)
Keep in mind that these exercises are not intended to replace a professional treatment plan. If you’re experiencing chronic pain and limited range of movement due to hunched shoulders, it’s a good idea to consult with a physician to rule out an underlying health issue.
1. Stretch the Pecs (Minor & Major)
If you have rounded shoulders then there’s a good chance you have tight pectoral muscles.
As your shoulders hunch forward, the length of the pec muscles shorten and become tight. Over time, this tightness becomes chronic which keeps your shoulders pulled forward and in an internally rotated position.
Stretching the pec muscles is easier said than done due to few people realising that the Pec is made up of two muscles and not one. Specifically, the Pecs are made up of the pec minor (pectoralis minor) and the pec major (pectoralis major).
The pec major is generally quite easy to loosen up with a foam roller or a massage ball as it is easy to reach. On the other hand, the pec minor is slightly more difficult to stretch and release due to its discreet location.
In order to properly stretch the tight muscles associated with rounded shoulders, you will need to stretch both the Pec muscles.
To learn how to stretch the pecs you can watch the video above or for a more detailed explanation see this page on how to effectively stretch the pecs.
2. Roll Out the Lats
Tight lats can also be a cause of rounded shoulders, so you’ll want to roll these out to loosen up the muscles.
To learn how to roll out your lats, follow the video above. This move can also be done before you stretch your pec muscles in the previous step.
3. Banded Shoulder Flexion Exercise
This exercise helps to strengthen the upper and lower traps. To do this exercise you will need a resistance band.
- Lunge one foot forward with your foot on top of the band.
- Whilst holding the bands, externally rotate your arms so your thumbs are pointing up. Depress your shoulders down and keep your chest up.
- Holding the bands, exhale and lift your arms above your head. Inhale as you lower your arms.
- You can also experiment with different arm positions.
4. Shoulder Band Exercise
The next exercise requires a resistant band and is designed to strengthen the upper back whilst also focusing on improving external rotation of the shoulders.
This exercise counteracts the persistent internal rotation associated with rounded shoulders.
To do this exercise:
- Hold the band in front of you with your thumbs pointed in. You can choose your own resistance by changing the distance between your hands.
- Pull the band apart and make sure to rotate your thumbs backwards at the peak of the stretch.
- Bring the band back in front of you slowly.
- Volume is key. Doing lots of these is better than doing a low number with high intensity.
Watch the video above for a visual of how to do this exercise.
5. Low Band External Rotation Exercise
This exercise also focuses on improving external rotation of the shoulders.
- Take an exercise band and hold it with both hands in front of your waist. Hold the band just a bit narrower than shoulder width apart.
- Twist your arms outwards and squeeze the shoulder blades together.
6. Seated Rows
Seated rows help strengthen the upper back muscles, especially the rhomboids (shoulder blades).
This is another exercise that can be performed with a resistance band.
- To do the exercise, sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your knees slightly bent.
- Flex your feet and wrap the resistance band around the arches of your feet.
- Grasping the handles of the resistance band in your hands, pull your elbows back toward your hips while squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Maintain this position for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
For best results, perform three sets of this exercise three times weekly. Also, remember to keep the shoulders pulled down away from your ears.
7. Chin Tucks
Chin tucks help strengthen the neck muscles and correct forward head carriage.
To perform this exercise, tuck your chin in toward your chest, place two fingers on your chin, and gently press your head back. Maintain this position for 3 to 5 seconds, then release. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
8. Lateral Band Raises
According to a 2013 study conducted by the Scandinavian Society of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, performing this simple exercise with a resistance band for just 2 minutes a day can help improve posture and significantly reduce neck and shoulder pain.
To perform this exercise:
- Place a resistance band under your feet and adjust your stance so that one foot is slightly behind the other.
- Grasping the handles of the resistance band in your hands, raise your arms upward and outward until they are at shoulder level.
- Maintain this position for 3 to 5 seconds, then lower your arms.
Remember to maintain good posture while performing this exercise.
How to Prevent Rounded Shoulders
Here’s the most important thing to keep in mind when fixing your rounded shoulders; it will most likely require a lifestyle change.
In other words, there’s no point doing all these exercises and stretches if you aren’t addressing the root cause. If the cause of your rounded shoulders is because you are sitting too much, then you need to change your sitting habits.
Maintaining good posture is the key to preventing rounded shoulders and other conditions associated with this common muscle imbalance – such as forward head posture, chronic neck strain, and kyphosis.
The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) suggests the following tips for correcting your posture and preventing the shoulders from drawing forward into a hunched position.
- Use a lumbar support pillow or adjust the backrest of your chair to support the low- and mid-back.
- If working at a desk, keep your forearms parallel to the ground and your shoulders relaxed
- Adjust your position periodically when sitting for long periods of time. Try to stand up at least every 20-30 minutes, grab a drink or go to the bathroom.
- Consider getting a standing desk to break up long periods of sitting.
- Stand straight with your shoulders pulled back.
- Allow your arms to hang naturally at the sides of your body.
- Keep your head in line with your shoulders. Avoid pushing the head backward, forward, or to the side.
Rounded shoulders is also a problem that rarely happens on its own. In most cases, people with rounded shoulders usually also suffer from forward head posture. In order to fix rounded shoulders, you will also want to make sure you are making effort to correct your forward head posture.
For more information and exercises to do this, see our post on how to fix forward head posture.
Make Fixing Your Posture Your Number 1 Priority
Fixing your rounded shoulders may seem like something that is unimportant, but you’ll find it comes with many benefits that come with having good posture.
Not only will you look better and have less tension in the shoulders, but you’ll also increase your confidence as being in a hunched position has proven to increase anxiety and depression. Think of it this way, by fixing your rounded shoulders you are simultaneously improving your day to day mood.
You may find that you want to make your own exercise routine rather than use the one above. Take your time and come up with a daily routine that works for you. You certainly won’t regret it!
One last note is that fixing rounded shoulders can take time.
Bad posture doesn’t just happen overnight and therefore there is no quick fix available.
However, even though it can take time, as long as you stay persistent, exercise frequently with good form, and also take the necessary steps to prevent rounded shoulders from developing, you will see results.