When a patient has experienced a shoulder injury or a medical condition that impacts the functionality of their shoulder, physical therapy is essential to restoring a full range of motion and getting the patient back to their regular activities.

The more a patient completes their physician-recommended stretches and exercises, the sooner they will regain their mobility, strength, and flexibility.

These exercises also reduce pain and discomfort by reducing recovery times and helping muscles and other ligaments heal.

If a patient is experiencing extreme discomfort or pain, a physical therapist may also recommend heat application, cold compresses, electrical stimulation, and other forms of therapy to accelerate the rehabilitation process.

What is a sleeper stretch?

A sleeper stretch is one of the many shoulder exercises physical therapists instruct patients to practice when recovering from a shoulder injury or medical condition. This exercise may also be referred to as a scapula stretch, as it works to stabilize the shoulder blade and eliminate posterior shoulder tightness.

How do I perform a sleeper stretch?

Your physical therapist will demonstrate how to stretch your scapula effectively.

However, we’ve included our preferred sleeper stretch instructions below:

Step 1

Lie on your side on a flat surface (we recommend a yoga mat or a firm mattress). The side of your body with the affected shoulder against the ground or the surface you are laying on.

Step 2

Ensure the impacted elbow is out in front of you, with the upper arm perpendicular to the shoulder. Then, ensuring both hands are facing towards your feet, begin to gradually press the arm with the injured shoulder down towards the surface you are laying on.

Step 3

As you press the arm down, you should begin to feel tension in the impacted shoulder. This is normal. Hold the stretch for several minutes, and ensure you stretch at least every day. It may also help to apply a cold compress to the shoulder after completing a sleeper stretch for the shoulder.

What exactly does a sleeper stretch do?

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, and this configuration is what allows us to move our arms in all directions. Each of us has a humerus bone, which is equipped with a knob that fits perfectly into our scapula socket. When a shoulder injury occurs, it is common for the scapula to be impacted, leading to shoulder weakness, constriction, or damage to the muscles which hold these important bone structures in place.

By performing the posterior capsule stretch for shoulders, also known as the sleeper stretch, patients are strengthening the muscles that surround the shoulder socket, and helping the joint regain stability.

Without engaging these muscles, the shoulder can remain weak and take longer to fully rehabilitate. This means that the individual would not be able to bear heavy loads or perform many of the activities they were able to before the injury occurred.

Who benefits from scapular stretches?

Many people are unaware that scapular stretches can also be performed as a preventative measure to help maintain the muscles within the shoulder, such as the deltoid and teres major.

Whether you are performing the stretch as part of a regular stretching or warm-up routine, or as part of a physician-recommended rehabilitation program, the sleeper stretch shoulder exercise is a highly effective method of preserving shoulder health.

Some individuals, in particular, who benefit from knowing how to roll a scapular include:

  • Athletes who regularly swing their arm (tennis players, baseball players, badminton players, swimmers, etc.)
  • Those who engage in repetitive activities involving the arm (Painters, construction workers, rock climbers, kayakers, etc.)
  • Those who have experienced a shoulder injury in the past and want to sustain a full range of motion
  • Anyone who has experienced a blow to the shoulder, even if it did not result in a fracture or require medical treatment
  • Any person who engages in intense physical training (Bodybuilders, cross fit enthusiasts, etc.)
  • Those aged 65+, as ageing can be associated with degenerative rotator cuffs
  • Those who have been diagnosed with arthritis
  • Those who were born with curved or hooked acromion bones
  • Anyone who is prone to bone spurs
  • Anyone who experiences shoulder pain or discomfort due to poor posture or working long hours at a desk

How Can Dr. Schwartz Help?

Before beginning a regular sleeper stretch routine, it’s crucial to understand exactly what is causing your shoulder pain and identify any underlying conditions. It’s also imperative to know for certain that scapular stretches are the right form of physical therapy for your unique trauma.

Dr. Schwartz has specialized in shoulder-related injuries since 2007 and more than 90 percent of his surgical practice involves shoulder surgery— making him one of the most qualified physicians in the San Francisco area and beyond.

Further, it is always Dr. Schwartz’s priority to make your complaints improve without the need for surgery. Thus, he has long-standing working relationships with some of the most highly competent physical therapists in the region and can develop a detailed treatment plan that is tailored to your unique needs.

For athletes, Dr. Schwartz is also educated in the field of sports medicine, making him well-versed in treating injuries that arise from physical activity. He always aims to treat his patient’s conditions in an expeditious and thorough manner that not only gets them back to their previous level of activity but will also serve as prevention for a potential recurrence of the injury.

If you are still unsure if Dr. Schwartz is the right physician for you, we encourage you to check out his extensive list of testimonials from satisfied patients. You can also book a consultation appointment to further discuss your questions or concerns with him personally. He is always happy to examine your condition and make personalized recommendations for your recovery.

Do you suspect you may have a shoulder injury that requires physical therapy? Contact Dr. Shwartz today to book an examination!

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