The ability to reach behind your back does not seem so important until it is taken away from you. Washing your back, grabbing your wallet, taking off your bra, putting on a belt, you name it. All of these simple activities of daily life can become quite difficult the moment you can no longer do them without an issue! However, you can get this motion back with the right exercises, discipline, and ultimately – patience. In this article, you’ll learn high-quality strategies on how to improve reaching behind your back.

What Is This Motion? Improve Reaching Behind Your Back

how to improve reaching behind your back the prehab guys

Reaching behind your back involves physiologic motion at the shoulder and the shoulder blade. Specifically, shoulder extension and internal rotation as well as physiologic motion in all planes of movement at the shoulder blade. This includes scapular rotation, elevation, depression, and abduction/adduction depending on where you’re reaching. Ideally, you should be able to reach behind your back and place your hand on your opposite shoulder blade.

 

Improve Reaching Behind Your Back By Bulletproofing Your Shoulders

shoulder prehab program how to improve reaching behind your back

If you are having difficulty with your shoulder mobility such as reaching behind you, we have a solution for you! This program will teach you how to strengthen your rotator cuff, and shoulder blade stabilizers, as well as improve mobility, all of which will bulletproof your shoulders. Get started with our program today!

 

Why Do We Lose This Motion?

Ultimately, why someone would lose the ability to reach behind their back can be due to a few things. We are going to explain why this could be due to boney changes, shoulder capsule restrictions, or soft tissue mobility deficits. However, it is important to note with these different etiologies of motion loss, the amount of range of motion loss and the amount of pain may not be the same across the board.

Bone

humeral retroversion improve reaching arm behind back the prehab guys

Humeral and glenoid retroversion is a common osseous adaptation in overhead athletes, especially baseball pitchers, due to the torsional forces exhibited on the throwing arm with repetitive motions and stress. This is believed to occur within a specific time frame (adolescent ages) while the growth plates are still open. Humeral/glenoid retroversion leads to an increase in shoulder external rotation and a decrease in shoulder internal rotation range of motion (ROM). However, this is not necessarily an issue as long as there is a normal side-to-side total shoulder ROM (sum of internal and external ROM). This may not be as big of an issue with reaching behind your back as say capsular tightness would be. On the other hand, shoulder osteoarthritis is a separate type of boney change that can definitely limit reaching behind your back. You can learn more about humeral retroversion by clicking here

Understand The Shoulder Capsuleshoulder anatomy how to improve reaching behind your back the prehab guys

Above is an appreciation of the glenohumeral (shoulder) joint capsule. Think of the capsule as a big sock around the shoulder that covers it. The shoulder capsule is made up of strong, fibrous connective tissue. This is a good thing as it provides stability to the shoulder, which is inherently a less stable joint. However, if there is an insult to the capsule that causes a clinical condition such as adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder), then the capsule can become very stiff and less pliable. This ultimately restricts physiologic shoulder motion and reaching behind your back can be very restricted.

Understand Shoulder Soft Tissue

shoulder anatomy the prehab guys

A more likely culprit, especially if you are suddenly having difficulty with reaching behind your back, is soft tissue flexibility deficits. Looking at the image above, the post cuff musculature can limit shoulder internal rotation. Specifically, the teres minor and infraspinatus muscles. Also, you could argue muscles in front of the shoulder that contribute to shoulder flexion and horizontal adduction such as the pecs could limit shoulder internal rotation. The good part about this is that if it is truly soft tissue flexibility deficits, a handful of stretches that are performed correctly and consistently will do the trick!

Sometimes, a loss in our shoulder range of motion may not only lead to difficulties with reaching behind your back, but with other upper extremity-related tasks, such as bench pressing or push ups for example. We have a previous podcast where Arash dives into how you can warm-up properly before performing bench presses or push ups and ultimately avoid pain with these activities!

LISTEN: BENCH PRESS & PUSH-UPS WITHOUT SHOULDER PAIN

bench press push ups without shoulder pain the prehab guys audio experience

 

How Do You Improve Reaching Behind Your Back?

Regardless of the reason, if reaching behind your back is limited and painful, it can be a real burden. Don’t fret! Below are various exercises focused on improving motion in different areas of the body that ultimately can improve reaching behind your back. You will find we start with the thoracic spine followed by a combination of shoulder and shoulder blade movements in efforts to improve reaching behind your back.

Mid Back Foam Rolling

Getting the mid-back moving more and moving well is a crucial first step in reaching behind your back. The mid back is known anatomically as the thoracic spine. Often times, due to prolonged sedentary positions, this area of the body can become stiff, and motions can become restricted if we do not move it! Moreover, as we elevate our shoulder such as when reaching above our head, our thoracic spine has to extend, sidebend, and rotate as well! Just try reaching behind your back and then think about it, your mid back moves too! As a result, if our thoracic spine mobility is limited, this may lead to limited shoulder mobility as well.

 

Quick Tips To Improve Reaching Behind Your Back

 

Cross Body Stretch

This is a really good stretch to directly target the posterior rotator cuff muscles that were referred to earlier in this article. The traditional sleeper stretch is tough for people who are working on the ability to reach behind their back as they typically have shoulder internal rotation limitations. Try this one out instead!

 

Hand Behind Back With Towel Assist

Sample Shoulder [P]Rehab Program Exercise Video

Once reaching behind your back is tolerated and the stretches are going well, it’s time to directly start working on the range of motion. I often start this exercise at the same time as the stretches, I will just recommend people to do the stretches first! Let your arm go for a ride with the towel if actively reaching is too much. However, as you get more comfortable with this exercise you want to start helping and directly assist the motion.

 

Prehab Membership The Prehab Guys

The Prehab membership is the anti-barrier solution to keeping your body healthy. Access state-of-the-art physical therapy, fitness programs, and workouts online in the comforts of your own home or gym! Taking control of your health with exercise & education from the palm of your hand has never been easier. Get access to 50+ programs, 100+ unique workouts, and 3000+ exercises to build your own workout routines. Trial it for free, and learn how to get out of pain, avoid injury, and optimize your health with [P]rehab!

 

Hand Behind Back With Hip Hinge

This is a really good exercise to try if the towel assist or any of the hand lift off exercises below are giving your shoulder some trouble. This exercise focuses on indirectly improving hand behind back motion by moving and stretching other areas, including the opposite pec muscles. Try it out and see how your hand behind the back motion is before and after!

 

Prone Hovers

Sample Shoulder [P]Rehab Program Exercise Video

Reserved for the advanced that have good ROM and want to improve their shoulder strength and mobility, I give you prone hovers! This is an excellent shoulder and scapular strengthening exercise that works on shoulder internal rotation as well as external rotation!

 

Closing Thoughts

I cannot reiterate this enough – improving the ability to reach behind your back takes time. Ask anyone that has dealt with this limitation before, you have to be patient, you cannot rush it, and often times it does not feel great. However, this ultimately depends on the underlying reason why reaching behind your back is limited. Stay disciplined and you will find some level of success!

 

Take Control of Your Shoulder Health

shoulder prehab program how to improve reaching behind your back

To win an NBA championship in this current era it seems at least 3 superstars are needed on the team. Behind these 3 superstars includes the entire support staff that takes care of the day-to-day operations allowing the stars to perform. Sounds like they are using the model of the shoulder! You will learn how to create balance among the support staff which will allow the 3 joints of the shoulder to perform to their superstar abilities!

 

About The Author

Craig Lindell, PT, DPT, CSCS

[P]rehab Co-Founder & Chief Content Officer

craig lindell the prehab guysCraig is a South Jersey native & Penn State Kinesiology Alumni. When the opportunity came, Craig packed his bags and drove to California to pursue his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California. With [P]rehab, Craig oversees all digital content creation and multi-channel publication that reaches millions of people on a weekly basis. As a PT, Craig has a wide array of experience from working with various neurological conditions to working with collegiate & professional athletes across the Big Five in North American sports. Experiencing physical therapy first-hand as a soccer player in high school, Craig has a passion & special interest in adolescent athletic development working with young athletes to overcome injuries. In his spare time, Craig enjoys exercising, playing golfing, hiking, traveling, watching Philly sports, and spending quality time with his family.

 

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer – The content here is designed for information & education purposes only and is not intended for medical advice.

About the author : Craig Lindell PT, DPT, CSCS

20 Comments

  1. Muhammad Asif khan baber December 17, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    I really feel proud to have connection with you peoples. Yes it is enough, as earlier exercises for hand behind the back.
    Thank you so much for such info with videos .

    • Michael Lau January 13, 2020 at 7:34 pm

      Thank you for your comment and your support! Happy that these exercises have been helping you!

  2. Dan May 14, 2020 at 6:36 am

    Question for you: Do you have any references for thoracic interventions to specifically improve shoulder internal rotation? I’m working on a PhD dissertation regarding thoracic interventions to improve shoulder/shoulder girdle mobility. I was encouraged that your article most definitely includes thoracic/rib cage mobility along with scapular stabilization and GH joint stretches. Well done.

    • Michael Lau June 3, 2020 at 12:07 pm

      Off the top of my head no – however I would suggest a quick search on pub med. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone has looked at that relationship before in some capacity!

  3. Kathleen Cunningham July 31, 2020 at 3:05 am

    I have a question and I am hoping you can answer it. I am a 71 year old very active female. I slipped 14 weeks ago. It resulted in a proximal displaced humerus fracture. I have had no surgery. 11 weeks of PT and I cannot reach up my back without a severe burning sensation.. the x-ray yesterday showed my shoulder at a 90 degree angle as oppose to 120 degree. Is my limitation muscle related and will your exercises help me to improve it.

    • Sherif Elnagger August 2, 2020 at 5:36 am

      Hello! Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, we are not able to respond to specific medical questions on this platform due to legality. I would continue to seek consultation from your healthcare provider and physical therapist regarding your shoulder. If you were to be cleared for all forms of exercise without limitations, and you would like to seek further avenues for exercise, we do have a shoulder program on our website. If you go to the search tab at prehabguys.com and type in shoulder, you can find more information about it there! Best of luck to you :)

  4. Khaled F August 22, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing this routine. If I only have a challenge with one side ROM (limited reach for the right arm), do you recommend doing this routine for both left and right or only focus on the one that has the limited reach?
    Thanks

    • Sherif Elnaggar August 25, 2020 at 7:11 am

      You’re welcome! We would encourage both sides, as this will only enhance your motion and overall functional capacity!

  5. Edward Suh November 1, 2020 at 8:42 am

    Hey, Im 40 and I injured my shoulder 3 yrs ago from excessive military presses. Since then, I can’t reach my arm and scratch my back. For almost 2 years, I didnt do any therapy but I still lifted weights at the gym. The last few months I’ve been doing physical therapy but 3 years later, I still can’t reach and scratch my back! Do you think the damage is permanent and irreversible or is there any still hope? Or maybe I’m doing the wrong exercises…

    • Craig Lindell November 2, 2020 at 4:06 pm

      Great question, it could be a combination of things but this specific motion can take time! It is a matter of understanding what is a good amount for your body (compare to the other side) continue to work on it with the right exercises (we have a free program you can try) and then stay consistent with it!

  6. Edward Suh November 24, 2020 at 9:29 am

    Hey Craig, sorry for the late reply. Yeah I’m definitely interested in the free routine. I am patient and willing to give it a chance. Glad to hear it’s not permanent.

  7. Ananda Manana January 17, 2021 at 2:58 pm

    Thank you for this. I will give it a go at my next yoga sesh….in an hour.
    I tore our my left shoulder something terrible while I wrecked surfing about 12 years ago. It ripped out of the socket to rest ON TOP of the upper bone, much to the horror of onlookers. I snapped it back with the weight of the board. Did I go to the hospital to check it out?
    Of course not.
    Now I can hardly do the reverse namaste for Ashtanga and it is really painful. Cannot even come close to grabbing hands, one over one under, behind the back like in the Cor Face pose of the Pradipika.
    Wish me luck. I am only in my mid forties!

  8. Honey March 17, 2021 at 2:03 pm

    Thank u so much. This helped me ALOT. Much appreciated!!

    • Sherif Elnaggar March 17, 2021 at 2:29 pm

      Of course!!! Super glad this was helpful! Thank you for your kind words!!

  9. Dorit October 21, 2021 at 9:45 am

    hi l love these exercises they help a lot. THANK!! I clicked the link and entered my mail, checked not a robot and clicked download and the workout appeared on the page but I didn’t get a mail. How do I get the workout by mail? cheers

    • Team [P]rehab February 7, 2022 at 3:53 am

      Hi!

      You are most welcome!! The workout does not go to your email, but rather opens directly to another page once you fill out the form! Hope this answers your question. Please let us know if you need anything else, or have any other questions for us.

      All The Best,

      Team [P]rehab

  10. Fiachra April 28, 2022 at 3:32 am

    Could I please get access to the free workout ?

  11. Aayush kala April 30, 2022 at 11:26 am

    I have a winged scapula for one hand , and when i try to reach my back my shoulder blades just pops out and turns in upward direction and my shoulder drops forward. Will these excercise help me??

    • Team [P]rehab May 2, 2022 at 4:48 am

      Hi Aayush!

      Thank you for your question. This article gives you information as well as some ideas as to how you can improve reaching behind your back; however, if you are looking for something more comprehensive, especially to establish control of your shoulder blades, I would look into our Shoulder Prehab Program, which allows you to take a step-by-step approach towards optimizing shoulder girdle health! The link is here below, and if you have more questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at info@theprehabguys.com

      Shoulder Prehab Program Link: https://theprehabguys.com/product/the-shoulder-prehab-program/

      Best,

      Team [P]rehab

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