Shoulder Rotation in Massage

By Laura Gordon

Wake up with shoulders aching or find that it hurts to reach up to that high shelf or even across your dinning room table.  Poor range of motion in your shoulder joint may be the problem. Range of motion is a critical part of massage for clients of all ages. It helps maintain client mobility and flexibility. For the shoulder region it assists in releasing tension in the neck, shoulder and upper back region, and as with the rest of the body, range of motion keeps the toxins flowing through the joints from the muscles that have or will be worked on.
This technique, that I use in my own practice, should be added at the conclusion of any anterior arm and hand massage routine:

1.) With client lying supine, bend their arm at the elbow;
2.) Step into a lunge stance leaning the hip against the massage table for additional support;
3.) Slide hand (right hand under right shoulder, left hand under left shoulder) between arm and torso at the shoulder girdle with fingers curling around the superior lateral aspect of the trapezius near the rotator cuff*;
4.) Place free hand on top of the rotator cuff;
5.) Lift shoulder girdle anteriorly and rotate clockwise in a circular motion forward, down, back and up three times;
6.) Reverse the circular movement (pressing down on the rotator cuff with the top hand) in a counter clockwise rotation;
7.) Conclude by sliding both hands down the arm to the forearm and wrist;
8.) Clasp the forearm with one hand and wrist with the other and pull toward the client’s feet with mild force;
9.) Replace arm on the table and repeat steps on the other arm.
*If the therapist experiences pain twisting the wrist and or the forearm under the shoulder, use the forearm to perform the rotation.
Challenge:  Apply this technique on two clients. Ask the clients what they liked and didn’t like about it and report their comments and your experience in performing the technique.

47 thoughts on “Shoulder Rotation in Massage”

  1. I did this on two family members who have never had it done before and they both enjoyed it. They are like me and felt a lot of poping the whole time but none of it painful. I think it’s a great technique but it only feels nice when done in the supine position, for both myself and all the clients I have tried it on.

  2. I am so glad you shared this. My husband is a firefighter and is constantly pulling down ceiling and therefore has developed bursitis. I read this technique three times to be sure that I understood it, I didn’t want to hurt him. After I performed these steps he could already feel that it had loosened and he said that he feels like he will be able to sleep better tonight! Thank you

  3. In the beginning section, I thought I read that this can affect older people. I have been having trouble with my left shoulder. Of course I wanted my sister to try it out on me today, but it was a no go, so I hope we are able to try this technique in class.


    1. I have been having trouble with my left shoulder. Of course I wanted my sister to try it out on me today, but it was a no go, so I hope we are able to to try this technique in class.

  4. I know seems like the older i get my body is falling apart. Tried to get my sister to do this technique to me today…..was a no go. I hope we will go over it in class.


  5. Seems like every time I post I have a problem. Tried to get my sister to do this technique on my left shoulder today, but it was a no go. I hope we will go over it in class


  6. This technique is awkward to preform, but it is very beneficial to the client to help with their range of motion. It is a great technique because you can literally feel what’s going on with your clients shoulder to be able to help them better understand what they need to do and how important it is that they do this at least every other night to get them feeling better. Thanks Laura for this information.

  7. I do have shoulder pain on my left side. Could not find anyone to practice on so hoping I can find someone in class to night.

  8. I do have major left should pain. could not find anyone to practice on, so hoping to practice on someone in classe tonight.

  9. I personally think this feels very awkward to the therapist but the client seems to like it. I did this on my husband, mother and brother in law and they all seemed to like it. My mother has arthritis and said it felt so good being able to move her shoulder like that because she is unable to do this on her own. My husband enjoyed the mild pull of the arm towards the feet the best, He responded it always feels better when you have someone stretching or massaging you rather than yourself. My brother in law said it gave him more movement in his shoulder but could probably do without it.

  10. I tried it on 2 patients today they said that it helped with there shoulder pain i think its a great technique.

  11. I did the exercise with my son, after I promised I wouldn’t tickle him, he enjoyed it. My daughter liked it very much, it relaxed her shoulder. Now I have to find somebody to practice on me. Great technique.

  12. The more I practice this technique the less time it takes for me to position myself with the shoulder. While doing the rotation I ask the client if it feels alright. I had both say great work out and other say it wasn’t that much of a improvement. I think with more practice I’ll get better and better.

  13. I currently have a roommate who I have been massaging on a regular basis with his physicians clearance. He is also at this time being treated by physical therapy for an old injury to his left shoulder. After performing these exercises on both of his shoulders he said that it felt much better on the left, and he felt like he could do more of his everyday activities without pain. I also performed these exercises on his son who is a baseball player, and pitches. He said that they relieved a lot of the tightness and stiffness in his shoulder and if I perform them after his practice/game, his shoulder is much better the next morning.

  14. I tried this ROM on my husband and my mom. My husband thought it felt good and thought it made his shoulders feel not as tight. My mom, on the other hand, has had 2 surgeries on her right shoulder therefore couldn’t do the full range of motion and thought it was uncomfortable for that shoulder.

  15. I constantly have shoulder pain and would love to have someone in class try this on me next week! I’m always open to new ideas 🙂

  16. I tried this technique on my brother that has some shoulder pain every now and then, and he really enjoyed it. I plan on trying it iut on my mother-n-law who had surgery on her rotator cuff but I think that she would really enjoy it to.

  17. I did this on my friend who plays tennis and he really enjoyed it. It helped his range of motion and helped some pain that he had in his shoulder. This will be a good technique to have for future reference.

  18. I have a partner that is very active and frequently complains of shoulder pain after a long days work. I tried this technique on him and he said it felt loosened up and more flexible. I haven’t had the opportunity to do this on anyone else but look forward to it.

  19. I don’t usually have tightness in my left shoulder, but I do in my right. I’m going to start trying to stretch it before I sleep. Hopefully these stretches will help.

  20. This shoulder ROM technique seems like it would be great for any general pain in that region, as any tension in the shoulder muscles pull on neighboring tissue.

  21. I like this technique of shoulder rom it makes sense in the hand and arm placement to really get at that shoulder joint and get a good motion out of them with minimal pain to client. Makes me feel like I really have more control of their arm or shoulder, gives me and client a feeling of security.

  22. This is a great technique for anyone with shoulder issues. I know I have serious left rotator cuff problems and it’s aches all the time and this would be nice to have performed as a passive ROM.

  23. I need great ROM in my shoulders so I can play volleyball. Sometimes, my shoulders can really not feel good, so, I am going to do a lot more stretches before I go to bed. Also, my dad and mom really get a lot out of these ROM techniques. My mom works at a computer for a good part of her work day, and my dad does a lot of physical labor during his. These are really helpful to them.

  24. I can’t wait to use this technique on some of my family members that have shoulder pains. I sleep on my side with my shoulder up under my pillow and wake up with shoulder aches so I’m gonna try and stretch my shoulders before I go to bed and see if that helps me.

  25. This was performed on me today in massage lab. It felt amazing and I was able to relax more afterwards. I am looking forward to being able to practice these techniques.

  26. I enjoyed reading this because I have lots of issues with my shoulders and it’s a helpful way to relieve my pain thank you so much I’m gonna use this technique.

  27. This article has some great information, I will practice this on the weekend. I know some people who has shoulder problems, hopefully this will help them!!!

  28. This is great information! I just worked on my friend last night and he said the hardest things he works on are his shoulders. So this should make him better for work!

  29. This is good information about the shoulders and rotator cuffs its helpful in explaining the stuff that i should do

  30. I’ve never woken up with hurt shoulders, or hurt anything for that matter, until we started talking about it in class, now I wake up hurting all the time! No idea why it starts now…

  31. I will need to practice that on my cousin’s arm being that she does wake up with a really sore right shoulder. Thank you for the great information!

  32. this is great help and i use the shoulder technique we learn in level 5 to. I think it feels amazing and my clients seem to love it to. I tend to have a lot of clients with shoulder issues so i am always looking for ways to help them thanks

  33. This is a very helpful mom and sister have both had surgery on their rotator cuffs and I will definitely use these techniques on them

  34. We used a couple of these techniques in class and i feel like they helped me because sometimes i sleep on my side and my shoulder get stiff sometimes.

  35. My friends enjoyed it, they said it ease the pain in their shoulder for that moment, but I think it’s a great relaxer.

  36. This is a wonderful technique and I enjoy having it done on me. Also I like to perform it on clients as well. Thanks!

  37. i used to do a similar ROM when i was taking care of an MS patient. its great for people who have a disability and cannot move their arms themselves.

  38. I tried this with my coworkers because we all do a lot of lifting of heavy trays and it takes a toll on all of our shoulders. All three of them felt better afterwards. They also think I’m wonderful now, so I love this blog! I love making people feel better.

  39. im actually a big fan of this one. I tried this right after i read it on my sister. apparently shes been having bad shoulder problems. next thing i know BAM, shes playing fetch with the dog. honestly id reccomend this to anyone just naturally as well as when someone has a sore shoulder