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December 12, 2021 9 min read

If you’re someone who hits the gym regularly or just someone who works a lot at a desk, we are sure you’ve experienced some form of shoulder tension at one point or another. Shoulder tension is characterized by tense muscles in the shoulder with added stiffness in the neck, and upper-back. 

This can be caused by everything from certain workouts like barbell squats to pad posture. The good news is there are several stretches you can do to relieve shoulder tension with a foam roller and that’s what we are here to get you started on today.

black foam roller on a gray yoga mat on wooden floor

What is a Foam Roller?

A foam roller is a large piece of foam that comes in a rolled shape and can vary in sizes and the one you choose will widely depend on the type of pain you are experiencing as well as the type of athlete you are. For example, most athletes need a smooth foam roller, but more serious athletes might want those with ridges and spikes to get the hard to massage places. You will be using the foam roller to give yourself a nice little at-home self-massage that has many health benefits.

What Are the Health Benefits of Foam Rolling?

Of course, it is more helpful if we go over these benefits of using a foam roller so you will know exactly why you should get one. Foam rolling, also known as self-myofascial release, helps to relieve the tension and knots that form in the soft tissue of your muscles. If you don’t work to relieve this tension on a regular basis, you can end up with increasing pain that may end up causing a serious issue.

Not to mention that foam rolling is great for connective tissue. It helps to relax the tendons and ligaments, which can help solve a whole host of health problems that can come about when you are invested in becoming a serious athlete.

There are many  health benefits to using a foam roller.

Below is a list that includes some of the most important reasons that athletes engage in foam rolling.

  • Helps your muscles recover after a workout
  • Assists in returning the muscles to normal function
  • Keeps your muscles in tip-top shape
  • Pain relief from sore muscles
  • Enhances athletic performance
  • Increases the range of motion of your joints
  • Increases the blood flow to your healing muscles
  • Relieves back pain from poor posture

If you are looking to become a serious athlete, whether you want to build muscle or run a marathon, foam rolling needs to be an essential part of your warm-up and workout routine. Without it, you won’t have proper recovery and this can damage your performance as an athlete. Remember that nutrition is also an important part of workout recovery, so be sure to include a post-recovery workout formula like  HYPERADE in your routine as well.

HYPERADE helps by replenishing the carbohydrates and electrolytes spent on your workout better than just eating food. Drink this while you foam roll your muscles and your body will be on its way to peak performance in no time at all.

What is the Best Foam Roller?

Honestly, the best foam roller for you will depend on your personal preference. Many people who are just starting their foam rolling journey prefer to use foam rollers that are medium to firm thickness and smooth on the surface. But if you are a person who enjoys deep tissue massages, you may want to look into a foam roller with spikes or other ridges to give you the pain release you desire. 

For best results, you should head to a store to try some foam rollers in person before you buy online. This way you can be sure that you are getting the best foam roller for you and that you will like your purchase, even if you ultimately end up buying a foam roller online somewhere else later.

Do You Suffer From Shoulder Tension?

Maybe you’re reading this article and thinking that you don’t suffer from shoulder tension. But the truth is, everyone does. Although you may not realize it, shoulder tension is tied into numerous different pains you might feel. If you ever feel neck pain, upper back pain, and even mid-back or lower back pain, all four of these can actually be attributed back to shoulder tension and poor posture. This is because your shoulders are responsible for your posture and the positioning of many of the muscles in your upper body.

Any muscle soreness you feel in your upper body is likely due to the tension of your lats or deltoids, both of which are muscle groups found in your shoulders. Remember, any sort of muscle tightness can quickly lead to muscle soreness if you aren't careful. So even if your shoulders just feel tight or tense, but not sore yet, it's important to relieve the tension before it gets worse.

How to Use a Foam Roller for Shoulder Tension


Using a foam roller to ease the pain caused by shoulder tension is very similar to using a foam roller on any other part of your body. First, you will want to focus on trigger points or tender spots of your muscle that are knotted and hard to the touch. These tight spots are usually the source of your pain and massaging them will help you to better use the foam rolling exercises to ease your overall muscle pain. There are some specific foam rolling exercises that you should use to guide your self-massage session, as these exercises are specifically targeted to release tension in your shoulder muscles.

    1. Pectoral Exercise

      This first foam rolling exercise is best after you spend a whole day sitting at your desk with your shoulder blades hunched forward. It is great to use as a warm-up before your workout.

      • Start by lying down on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your arms resting by your side.
      • Place the foam roller underneath your back vertically, so one side of the foam roller is at your low back and the other is between your shoulder blades.
      • Stretch your arms out the side with your palms facing up.
      • If you can, rest your hands and elbows on the ground.
      • Stay in this position for 5-10 breaths.
      • For a deeper, more advanced stretch, make large circles with your arms while you breathe.

        2. Rotator Cuff Exercise

          There are many parts of the shoulder that end up tight and sore at the end of the day, the most common one being the rotator cuff. This complex part of your body contains 4 different muscles that can easily become knotted and tense, causing radiating pain in your upper spine, neck, and even as low as your wrist.

          This is why it is so important that you  work out your rotator cuff properly, and engage in the proper recovery following this type of workout.

          Note: this exercise is best done with a textured foam roller, but can be performed with a smooth one as well.

          • Start by laying on your right or left side, and place the roller under your armpit.
          • Roll your shoulder and torso back so that your chest is facing the ceiling.
          • Roll yourself across the roller in a side-to-side motion for 10-20 seconds.
          • Switch from rolling side to side to rolling up and down. This movement should be more focused on your scapula than the previous motion. Repeat 10-20 seconds.
          • Shake out your arm to relieve any remaining tension.

          This exercise can be very intense. If you feel exceptional pain, you may want to stop and see a doctor or physical therapist before trying this exercise again.

            3. Table Top Exercise

              The cool thing about foam rollers is that they are very versatile in when and how you can use them. Although you are most familiar with using them on the floor for stretches, you can also use them on a tabletop like this next shoulder stretch. This stretch focuses on the muscles on the top of your shoulder and you should pause and roller deeper whenever you feel sore spots or trigger points.

              • Place your foam roller on a tabletop.
              • Lean forward placing the top of your right shoulder on the top of the foam roller. The remainder of the foam roller should be between your wrist and body.
              • Lean towards the table and away from the table with the rest of your body, allowing the foam roller to move smoothly over the top of your shoulder.
              • Repeat for 30 seconds, then switch to the left side.

                4. Underarm Table Top Exercise

                  Similar to the above exercise, this next one will also require a tabletop. But this exercise helps to relieve tightness in your triceps and the parts of your latissimus dorsi (lat) muscle that run through your armpit.

                  • Place the foam roller on a tabletop.
                  • Lean over so that the triceps in your left arm is resting on the foam roller.
                  • Bend your left elbow, resting your head on your hand.
                  • Lean towards the table, then away, allowing the foam roller to roll all the way from your upper elbow to your armpit.
                  • Repeat for 30 seconds.
                  • Switch to your right side and repeat.

                  You can also do this exercise with your arm straight out rather than bent at the elbow and lean forward to target your deltoid muscles instead.

                    5. Upper Rib Muscle Massage

                      Do you get pain in your ribs? Then this next foam roller exercise is for you. It hits not only the lats but also the serratus muscles of the upper ribs that could be causing you pain.

                      • Start by laying on your right side on the floor.
                      • Place the foam roller under your right side below your armpit (not in your armpit).
                      • Use your feet to lift your body off the ground, putting all your weight on the foam roller and your right hand, which should remain on the ground to guide your motions.
                      • Use your hands and feet to roll your body up and down, allowing the foam roller to roll from the top of your armpit, all the way to the base of your ribs.
                      • Repeat for 30 seconds then switch to the left side of your body.

                        6. Foam Rolling Exercise for Neck and Shoulder Pain

                          As previously mentioned, neck and shoulder pain often go hand in hand. If you suffer from both, try putting this next foam rolling exercise in your routine.

                          • Lie flat on your back on the floor with your arms outstretched and your knees bent comfortably and facing towards the ceiling.
                          • Place the foam roller under the tops of your shoulder blades (or under your upper back)
                          • Use your feet to move your body up and down the foam roller slightly, giving a nice little massage to the base of your neck and the entirety of your upper back.
                          • After doing this for 30 seconds, return the foam roller to its original position.
                          • Next, lift your arms above your head and push your legs into the bridge position.
                          • Roll yourself in the same backward and forward motion in this position for 30 seconds.
                          • Pause this exercise if you feel any trigger points or tender spots and focus on this area alone for a few seconds.

                          Even though this exercise is only for one minute total, many people find that this one is the best for their neck and shoulder pain, so don’t be afraid to double the time you spend doing it if needed.

                          Other Parts of Your Body That Can Benefit From Foam Rolling

                          Although the shoulder, neck, and back are all critical aspects of your body that you should be foam rolling, the truth is, a good foam rolling can help many different parts of your body. If you are suffering from pain in the following areas, you should try foam rolling to help relieve the tension in these areas.

                          • Glutes
                          • Hamstrings
                          • IT Band (tendon on the outside of your leg)
                          • Fascia (located on your side adjacent to your low back, below the ribcage)
                          • Quads
                          • Calves
                          • Hips

                          Generally, these areas of your body can be relieved from pain just by performing a 30-second roll out of the muscle that is causing your problems. But if you are having serious issues with any of the above muscle groups, be sure to look up some specific foam roller exercises to relieve muscle pain in these areas. Additionally, it is always worthwhile to ask your personal trainer or physical therapist for some ideas of exercises and stretches that can help the specific muscle group you are having tension in.

                          It’s Foam Rolling Time

                          Isn't just reading about relieving all this muscle tension getting you in the mood for a little self-massage? Regardless of the type of athlete you are, or your goals in the fitness world, you absolutely must make a foam rolling routine a priority on your list if you want to avoid injury. And if your shoulders are nice and relaxed and ready for some serious bulking, you should check out these  lat exercises you can do at home.