Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

By Ross Ashcraft

Ever reach for the remote, swing a bat, throw a ball, swat the dog, pick up a pan and feel a numb or burning sensation in your shoulder?  Were you an athlete when you were younger?  Specifically, were you a swimmer, pitcher, quarterback, tennis player, or golf officianato and you tried to pick up the sport again and your shoulder just wasn’t the same?  Ever wake up and your shoulder hurt for hours and you thought you just must have slept on it wrong?

 Consider this:  All of the above instances were not the reason you are in pain.  Oh, you are hurt but they are not the cause.  Those instances are just the final damage on an already injured shoulder.  They are the straw that broke the camel’s back.  We spend our lives injuring and re-injurying our bodies.  We put it through so many stressful not to mention painful situations that it is a wonder that it can recover at all. 

The two most common reasons that I have found for chronic shoulder pain are:

1.  Sleeping on your shoulder

2.  Damaged muscle from a recent or long-term injury that has never properly healed

Many people sleep on their shoulder.  All night long you crush and cram your shoulder denying it the proper blood supply.  It cannot heal under these circumstances.  Think of your body as a construction site.  You could have the most amazing equipment and tools; but if you don’t have a skilled labor force that can make proper decisions, there is not much that you can accomplish. 


Wall Walking 10x Before Bed

1.  Stand about one foot away from the wall with your elbow bent

2.  Place your index and middle finger on the way and walk up.  Reminds me of the old yellow pages add.

3.  Walk up the wall until your reach your discomfort and hold there for 3 seconds

4.  Let your fingers drag down the wall

5.  Do this 10x with the intent of getting higher and higher as you go.

Stretch before going to bed

Change your sleeping habits—sleep on your back.  

Change your pillow to a cervical neck pillow.  Thank you Kerstin Byrd-Trotter  a CCC alumnus for this great suggestion!  She says, “they are kinda pricey but sooo worth it.  I never use to sleep all the way through the night now I have never slept better!!!!”

Without proper care a shoulder can very quickly let you know that it is annoyed with you. However, we have an amazing machine.  It can take years of repetitive motion and still bounce back.  IF it gets the proper training and support, it can recover.  A skilled massage therapist can help retrain your shoulder and get you back to your life.  Consider trying these options before making any drastic decisions like surgery.

140 thoughts on “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking”

  1. I have only a few times where I can really remember my arm and shoulder being so hurt that I could not move them for a couple days. Since I have came to class and learned all the different ways to keep our bodies healthier and happy I have not slept better. My arm pain is usually always from sleeping on it with my arm extended under my head and pillow. Wall Walking would of really been helpful back when, but thanks to client homework and yoga I have learned a easier way to sleep at night. Granted it is not always the right way to sleep a lot of my pains have been elevated. Thanks Ross for all the great info that you keep throwing at us.

  2. What timing! I like to sleep on my right side and this morning, I guess I rolled the wrong way. It’s not too often that I cuss in my sleep. Guess it was letting me know it was unhappy with me. Thanks for the info.

  3. I’ve had that happen to me several times. I normally sleep on my right shoulder. My belly dance instructor showed me a series of stretch exercises that really helped. I also try to message the pain out useing small circular motions around my shoulder. Sometimes drinking different herbal teas can help relax the muscles before you go to sleep.

  4. I’ve had that happen to me several times. I normally sleep on my right shoulder. My belly dance instructor showed me a series of stretch exercises that really helped. I also try to message the pain out useing small circular motions around my shoulder. Sometimes drinking different herbal teas can help relax the muscles before you go to sleep.

  5. I’ll definatley have to try wall walking. Ive started to try different yoga techniques and stretching before going to bed and during clients, which has helped a ton! Thanks for the information!

  6. I have a lot of shoulder pain from how I sleep and cheerleading. I have found if I put pillows all around me I dont move as much in my sleep and I dont sleep on my shoulder.

  7. The first time we did wall walking as a lab demo, I had dealt with shoulder problems for nearly ten years and could not do full ROM. Now I rarely have trouble with my shoulders unless I sleep on them. I have no trouble walking all the way up the wall with no pain. Thank you for this tool.

  8. Well, I guess if you have to keep hitting me over the head with the sleeping thing I’ll have to listen…eventually. Really I don’t have much shoulder pain, but I do realize that sleeping on them, especially, only on the same one all the time is bad. Who knows someday I may seriously look in to the cervical neck pillow. It would probably help the neck pain I’ve been having!

  9. It is amazing what we don’t do that prevents us from getting a good night sleep. Keeping our bodies healthy and yes spending a few extra dollars on the right sleep equipment goes a long way.

  10. Oh wonders, a body part that I dont have a problem with! I agree with the cervical pillow advice as I got one after getting to know my chiropractor much too well about 2 yrs ago because my headaches were so bad. It was $30 (memory foam) but I’m still using it and I even take it on vacations. When I forget to take it I’m gaurenteed a stiff neck and headache the next day. It made a huge difference to how well I sleep and really helps to retrain you to sleep on your back. Expensive -yes but cheaper than an adjustment every month!

  11. I’m very thankful that I don’t have shoulder pain in this way, but there are times when I wake up in the morning and my shoulder does feel a bit “scrunched”. I could definitely benefit from the cervical pillow, and wall-walking is great information to give to a client as homework for people who have regular shoulder pain.

  12. I am guilty of sleeping on my shoulder. Some mornings I can barely move my arm–it takes about fifteen minutes after I get out of bed to be able to use it. Double whammy: I have injured this shoulder many times. Since attending classes, I have learned several techniques to help with pain and I will certainly add these to the repertoire. Thank you, Ross! 🙂

  13. I sleep on my shoulder almost every night. Its just the most comfortable way for me to fall asleep. atleast a couple nights a week I do wake up with some numbness. I think I will try sleeping in a different position for a few nights and see what happens.

  14. Yeah this looks goofy, and I look goofy doing it, but the wall walking is one of my favorite stretches. My favorite, though, still remains the push-up with shoulder ROM. Thanks, oh wise and wonderful instructor!

  15. My shoulders usually always are in some kind of pain. My left one is worse than my right because I am left handed and played volleyball, basketball, and softball. So it was always in some kind of range of motion. I use to stretch all the time but now I have kinda got lazy! But now since you have reminded me this wonderful technique I will get back into my routine. Thanks!!

  16. I almost forgot to do this write up! Sorry! I do arm stretches often throughout the day, and I sleep with a cervical pillow. I am now trying to do my arm stretches and arm exercise before bed as well. The only only I haven’t done is the wall walking. I know that would be beneficial because I had to to that with my shoulder surgery physical therapy. I will probably add that to my daily arm routine to regain my range of motion and my strength. Thanks for the reminder. Plus all of this personal experience will help me to remember what to recommend to my clients. 🙂

  17. I sleep on my shoulders so they hurt me all the time. And I have recently been sleeping on my back with a pillow under my neck. it helped out a lot!!! Now if I can just remember to do that every night I will be back in business!!! And the wall walking I will have to try but don’t want to cause I know my shoulders are really bad.

  18. I had few problems about sleeping on my shoulder, I thought it was my bed, (well it sort of does) but one reason is I had small pillows and didn’t support my neck much. So now I sleep with like 4 pillows, 2 under my head, and 1 between my legs and other is just to cuddle with. Helps me and I don’t wake up with any tension.

  19. I will definitely try these before deciding to have surgery. Thankfully, I don’t need surgery either right now.

  20. I sleep on my side every night. I don’t have any pain, but I stretch every day before I work out. The walking up the wall technique will be good to keep for client homework.

  21. I usually sleep on my shoulders but its very rare that I wake up with them hurting. I love the idea of finger walking up the wall. I don’t have shoulder pain but next time I do I will definitely try that.

  22. I do not have any problems with my shoulders but I know my mom could really benefit from this exercise because she has two torn rotator cuffs.

  23. I sleep on my shoulders every night and have ever since I can remember. I constantly have shoulder pain and knots in my shoulders. I tried the wall walking when we demonstrated it and I think its going to be something I will start doing daily!

  24. yeek! I am in trouble and think I need to figure a different way to sleep. When I did the wall routine I didn’t have any pain so do I have to? I need to share this with every fireman in town and teach them this method.

  25. I never really had problems with my shoulders. I tried the finger walking technique and noticed that I did get a little sore about 3/4 of the way. This technique did help ease the tension in my shoulder I will most definitely recommend this to clients.

  26. I sleep on my right shoulder every night. I never really thought about it but this could explain why I have a lot of shoulder and neck problems on that side. Plus the pillow I sleep with doesn’t support my neck very well. I should really invest on a pillow with better neck support. I also tend to sleep on my stomach which is bad for your neck. I will try to start sleeping on my back or try to create good posture in my sleep by bolstering myself with pillows.

  27. I just that it was my age, and of course I have a hard time relaxing because of my tremors, but am willing to try anything at this point!

  28. My right shoulder has been giving me issues since my last car accident in 2010. I will definitely try this exercise. I do have a water pillow, I don’t know the technical term for it but it has saved my neck for sure! I think with the exercises and the pillow my shoulder should be better. It’s crazy that my chiropractor from that time never told me to do this.

  29. I had to do similar techniques to these every night after my major car wreck ten years ago, it was either stretches or medication which I am not a fan of. They worked great. I can never stay in one position when I sleep so maybe trying these stretches will help me once again.

  30. iv tried to change my sleep patterns, at least while im falling asleep. but i almost always wake up in the fetal position.

    1. You could try wearing sweat bands while you sleep. They been known to provide just enough pressure to help you release the wrist muscles while you sleep.

  31. I often have shoulder pain in my left shoulder. I like to roll in my sleep so that could be one thing that may be causing the pain. I’ve heard of the finger walking up the wall and have done this before and it helped a lot. I really like this technique because it is so simply yet gets the job done. GREAT CLIENT HOMEWORK!!!

  32. I haven’t had much shoulder pain but this was one of the techniques that my mother-n-law had to do after her rotator cuff surgery and it was very helpful for her. Thanks for the information on this, this will be very useful for me and other people.

  33. I sleep on my shoulder and trying to change that will be a challenge. I guess I will have to ask my husband to make me change my position during the night. He is a light sleeper and wakes up all the time. Maybe I have to find out what his problem is. We are trying to stretch before going to bed and I never thought of the wall walking, but I will make a note next to my bed, besides the one that says “stretch”.

  34. Finger walking was interesting when I tried it I felt some pain between my shoulders never even heard of it until now.

  35. Finger Walking!? Bizarre i have never heard of it until now. Though I have been told to do multiple wall exercises because of my knee and hip problems but never this. It was interesting and humorous to try. In the end it was a good stretch , I’ll go to sleep tonight and see how that felt in the morning.

  36. I’ve been doing a good job of not sleeping on my shoulder and stretching when I get up in the morning (I do Tai Chi in the mornings). However, I need to be stretching before I go to bed as well. I have also been switching up my pillow situation. I am interested in purchasing a cervical neck pillow.

  37. I’ll have to try this. No matter how I fall asleep I end up waking up on my side. Maybe surrounding myself with pillows will keep me off my shoulders.

  38. While I can do the finger walking, I experienced more discomfort than I believe is normal so I’m hoping these and other stretches help! I was already looking into new pillows so I’m excited to get a cervical neck pillow and hope that that helps me sleep on my back 🙂

  39. I really like the wall walking that’s a great idea. I think breaking a sleeping habit would be really tough but def worth a try.

  40. i constantly do arm stretches since i had my rotator cuff on the right arm worked on. Walking up the wall was really good when i first got my sling off i also had a long band i used that hooked into the top of the door just to add a little extra stretch.

  41. There have been several times where my shoulders have hurt so bad that I couldn’t fully raise them up over my head or lift them any without some kind of pain. I knew that sleeping on your side wasn’t as good as sleeping on your back, but I didn’t know that sleeping on your side could cause such problems with your shoulder. I need to retrain myself so that I lay on my back for the majority of the night if not all, because it’s hard for me to not toss and turn all night.

  42. This was a great article! I have rotator cuff issues myself and doing the wall walking technique in class hurt, but Ross was right “shocking I know” I was able to go up every time I brought my hand down. I will be doing this technique every night, it was amazing that I have only did this technique once and I can already feel a difference.

  43. This blog was very informative. I think the wall walking idea is great. I personally don’t have any issues with my shoulders but if I ever start to or if I come across a client that does I will know what to do.

  44. I love this technique and am so happy to be learning so many great techniques. I will be showing this to a friend of mine who has rotator cuff issues. 🙂

  45. I do have rotator cuff problems and I wish they would go away.. Can’t have a good day when I’m whencing from pain while massaging people or even just sitting for that matter, just like right now after doing the rotator cuff massage technique it’s hurting even worse THEN we did the wall walking technique and it made it hurt worse… HELP!!! I have been trying to change my sleep position pattern and now I will add the wall walking technique. Thank you Rossiford!!!

  46. In doing this exercise I found that my right shoulder is hurting. I will have to do this technique before going to bed. I will also have my husband to this exercise before bed so it will help his shoulder pain as well.

  47. I sleep om ,y shoulders all the time 🙁 I don’t have any problems from it now, but I’m worried that if I continue I will start seeing problems. I just can’t seem to fall asleep laying on my back.

  48. After having my rotatory cuff surgery I had the homework of walking the walls. even though it has been an year now I still walk the walls to keep the strength up in that shoulder.

  49. i personally have shoulder problems and yes its because i lay on my side at night. however i tend to sleep with my arm out in front of me rather then under me, or i will sleep with my arm under my head stretched out. i have been trying to sleep on my back but with my sinus problems its hard for me to breath some nights when im on my back. if i have the money sometime soon ill consider getting one of those pillows and see if it helps more. i have a gel like pillow now that conforms to my neck really well but its still lacking in support a little.

  50. I hate it when I’ve been sleeping on my shoulder all night and then I wake up in the morning to excruciating pain. This exercise will really help me before I go to bed. Thank you!

  51. Wall walking sounds like a good technique. I personally don’t have shoulder problems, but when I have clients that do I will have a solution!

  52. When we did this in class yesterday, I had already had a deep tissue treatment on both shoulders. It was still hard to get my left arm above my head, so this is added to my evening stretching at home.

  53. My shoulders are good usually but my husbands shoulders are always bothering him he has trouble lifting one of his arms over his head. He did something really bad to it. I always spend most of his massage time on his shoulders, not I will do deep tissue on his shoulders every time.

  54. Thanks for this information. Both my parents have had recent shoulder injuries so I may suggest to them these small changes to help them out.

  55. I sleep on my side at night, with my hands crossed in front of my chest lying on the bed. Often when I wake up I have pain and discomfort in my shoulder. These techniques will definitely be beneficial to my abused muscles. However, I have slept on my side for so long that sleeping in any other position is uncomfortable to me. This will be yet another life style change I will have to work on making for future healthy muscles.

  56. All of these are great ideas that I need to try. It is very beneficial for our bodies in the long-term and to feel rested by trying these things.

  57. I had to do this when I was in rehab for my shoulder surgery. 4x every 4 hours for about a month! as high as i could go plus a bit more every time. but thanks to it i have full ROM back in my should!

  58. I have shoulder issues but I dont sleep on my side. I have been told to do the finger walk by my therapist i guess i should start doing it!

  59. I sleep on my side all the time. It’s probably what causes the tension in my shoulders. I should probably try to do these exercises before bed. I’ve tried sleeping on my back, but it’s just not comfortable enough to fall asleep.

  60. For all the athletic things that I do. I luckily do not have shoulder issues. However, I will keep this in mind for future clients.

  61. I sleep on my side a lot! I recently changed bed and made myself change sides. So hard! But I am now working on sleeping on my back.

  62. I don’t really have shoulder pain when i wake up in the morning with shoulder pain i try to sleep on my back as much as i can but if i did i would try this.

  63. I am definitely guilty of sleeping on my shoulder. I am most uncomfortable on my back so I usually don’t sllep on my back but I can start trying.

  64. I learned to do this after my dad had rotater cuff surgery. this was one of his homework exercises. I do it from time to time when I just sleep the wrong way.

  65. I always sleep on my side. Definitely trying this tomorrow! I’ve been having some shoulder soreness.

  66. This blog didn’t pertain to myself personally, but I have some very important people in my life that have extreme shoulder pain and also sleep on the shoulder so I will share this article with them. Thanks!

  67. I was able to share this blog with a client that I worked on. She really liked this technique I may have to try this more often with all the torture that deep tissue week has been on my shoulder.

  68. My husband had rotator cuff surgery about a year ago so this may really help him. Thanks for sharing so now I can share with my husband.

  69. I actually purposely wake up and switch sides nearly every 30min at night. Which ever side of my body i’m lying becomes achy “during” the night keeping me from a deep sleep. If I do not rotate, my body is stiff, achy, and mad at me me for the entire next day.

  70. im pretty excited to find a cervicle pillow. i sleep on my right shoulder all the time, itd be nice to find something to remedy my bad sleeping habits. especially unconciousely

  71. I am always sleeping on my side and can’t seem to sleep if on my back or stomach. So I am going to look into the special pillow! thanks for the tips!

  72. I like the wall walking idea and I myself am going to have to try it before I go to be for my right shoulder cause it is in pain when I wake up so I hope it helps me have more range in the morning.

  73. This is great for me because I have a tendency to sleep on my shoulder and it will hurt in the morning sometimes. I plan to try this before I go to sleep tonight. Thanks Ross!

  74. This is a great blog for me being that i have a family full of bad shoulders from torn rotator cuffs. I will make great use of this info in my career with nephews who are quaterbacks for their teams.

  75. I do have a tendency to sleep on my side. I don’t experience shoulder pain that often. But I will definitely try to sleep less on my shoulder and do the exercise and stretching before bedtime.

  76. i am confused as to why this blog contradicts itself. it starts off saying that people think playing sports or sleeping wrong can cause their pain. it then states that their assumptions are wrong. then goes on explain that these are the exact reasons that they are in pain. ?

  77. I like the exercise to do to help your shoulders out. I’ve had left shoulder problems since a surgery I had in 2012. Massage class has sure helped!

  78. I have shoulder problems, i sleep on my shoulders all the time. No matter how much I try to fall asleep on my back, when I wake up I’m always on my shoulder.

  79. one time i was at a stop light and wanted to take my coat of really fast, and really hurt my shoulder, i was sore for like 3 days. i wish i would have known these stretches.

  80. My fiance injured his shoulder playing baseball and I was actually going through these steps with him last night to help with the pain.

  81. I sleep on my shoulders and have chronic shoulder pain in my right shoulder due to an old injury that never healed properly. I recently added wall walking to my nightly routine. I also make sure I sleep with plenty of thick, fluffy pillows to take the added strain off my shoulders. I has helped reduce the pain and tension I have been battling in my shoulders and upper back.

  82. Great article! I enjoyed reading it. I do tend to sleep on one shoulder, but he lately I’ve been switching sides of bed just so my other shoulder doesn’t lose it’s circulation.

  83. I’ve had many mornings that i had shoulder pains thinking it was from the way i worked out, but in reality, it was from the way i slept. I try to change my sleep habits but i feel so uncomfortable in my neck from my pillow that way. I’ll look into a cervical neck pillow and possibly try that.

  84. this information seems to be pretty helpful when it comes to getting good nights rest with out waking up with shoulder pain or back pain stretching before bed seems like a good idea though i dont follow threw with stuff like this though i should start now before i re-great it later in life.

  85. I am excited to say I have suggested wall walking to a client and someone in my family they were excited to find out something so simple. I have since started sleeping on my back when I think about it but my side I prefer.

  86. I have never hurt my shoulder but know many people who have so this blog has some great information i will share with them. I can attest to the fact that the neck pillows are amazing. I had one at one point and it helped me get a full nights sleep on several occasions. I would recommend them to everyone!

  87. I think this is a good exercise for everyone, I know a few people with shoulder problems and I’m gonna show them this technique we learn in class. And hopefully they will continue doing this technique on there own.

  88. I really enjoy the wall walking stretch, it allows a person to work their range of motion without another person or to much strain on the muscles.

    I usually stretch every morning to keep my joints comfortable; I think sleeping with the cervical pillow is great idea.

  89. I like the up the wall exercise and rotating from side to side when I sleep. I am a swimmer and it really works especially after I do the butterfly. I go home and walk my hands up the wall and it feels so good afterwards and I can sleep better without a whole lot of soreness and aching especially in my shoulders.

  90. I like the wall walking technique, I think its fun and it helps relax and work out my shoulder. I have tried to get my dad to wall walk before bed, because he has shoulders that are in pain and super tight. I’ll keep trying to get him to do this, because there are just to many benefits for your shoulder to miss out on.

  91. We did this little move in class the other day as a demonstration and I have to say that I could feel the effect even after only doing it a few times. I can only imagine how much better I would have felt with doing more repetitions. I often sleep on my stomach or my side. As well as, carry a lot of stress up in and through out my shoulders. I’m going to try and do this stretch before bed at night as well as try and position myself to sleep comfortably on my back. Thanks so much for the helpful tips!

  92. I never had shoulder problems till I went to cosmology school and man the pain came fast, so I have been doing these things when I sleep since then because I found that it made a drastic change in the way my shoulders felt the next day. The pain wasnt gone but it helped.

  93. This blog makes since why my shoulders hurt i do sleep on my side alot this makes complete senses thanks

  94. My left shoulder gives me problems and I know it is because I sleep on it. I’m now interested in getting a cervical pillow.

  95. I used to have a hard time sleeping without moving my neck around but once I purchased a neck pillow I was able to keep my neck still.

  96. Very good article. Some really great advise. We all need to take time and make some of these changes in our lives.

  97. Yikes! I’m definitely a side sleeper. This may be a hard habit to change but I will give it a try.

  98. I have been a side sleeper my whole life and have awful shoulder problems. I always try to fall asleep on my back but end up on my sides anyway. I look forward to trying this out! Thanks!

  99. I often try some of these techniques out of what i’m guessing is instinct. I need to do more stretching before bed and even when i wake up in the morning. I even try sleeping on my back with no pillow! These are very helpful techniques and can’t wait to try some of them out and pass them on to friends and family.

  100. It is hard to fix a problem that has been there and kept getting bigger and bigger in one session. It is important that we take care of our self to prevent any kind of injury

  101. There have been a few times when I have awaken to a sore shoulder. I normally don’t sleep on my side. Also should invest in one of the cervical neck pillows.

  102. i am guilty of sleeping with my arms turned in. very difficult habit to break! the wall walking is awesome and has improved my flexibility in my arms

  103. I think that sound rely sounds like a good idea I going to try this to see how it works.

  104. I’ve seen the wall walk stretch in action and it looked painful but it really seemed to help. I need to start stretching before I go to bed- if only I could remember. I did start sleeping on my back and it relieved a lot of the pain I had in my shoulder

  105. I will have to try wall walking for my shoulder I have a tendency of sleeping in it and it constantly hurts. I just need to put a reminder on my phone to help me remember.

  106. I try making myself lie on my back but love the fetal position. But it is killing my shoulder. Thanks for the tip before going to bed though

  107. I sleep on my side most of the time and have never had problems with my shoulders however, after learning this I am going to try and pay attention more and make myself sleep on my back.

  108. I like the wall walking technique because it seems easy and realistic to do before bedtime, I’m going to try it tonight. I also never thought about the quality of my pillow; I’ve had it for years and I know it was a cheap one. I may need to consider making the investment.

  109. I often wake up in the middle of the night with shoulder pain. I already do some stretches for it before I go to bed. I will add in walking the wall with my fingers 10 times before bed.

  110. I sleep on my side and do feel like I am crushing my shoulder. I am going to get better at sleeping on my back and may be get one of those pillows. It does sound comfy.

  111. I have not tried this at home, only at school. But I’m going to try and remember to do it tonight. I do understand the benefits of it.

  112. I have had shoulder problems for a long time and I am going to trying doing the wall walking and see if it help. I also need to make sure I sleep on my back all night. i am curious to see if this helps.
    this would be a great homework for clients.