Assessing Overhead Shoulder Mobility (Part 1)

Can’t lift your arms up overhead? Must be a mobility issue, right? 

Not necessarily. Sometimes a stability issue can limit your shoulder mobility. After all, your brain doesn’t want you to move in positions that it cannot control. 

This article will cover how to assess overhead shoulder mobility to determine whether it is a stability or mobility issue limiting the movement. Part 2 of this article will cover some examples of exercises to improve overhead mobility. 

Overhead Shoulder Assessment

First begin with assessing your shoulder overhead mobility. Stand as you normally would and lift your arms overhead. Note the range of motion as well as any stiffness, clicking, or popping in the shoulder when you perform this movement. 

Rotator Cuff Limitation

While standing, the rotator cuff can be assessed to see if it is contributing to limited shoulder range of motion. Use an exercise mini-loop (or an exercise band) and wrap it around your wrists. Push your wrists out against the band and perform the overhead shoulder assessment. 

If the shoulder range of motion improves, a rotator cuff stability issue is limiting the overhead mobility.

If there is no change in the range of motion, we can progress to check if a core stability issue is involved. 

Core Stability Limitation

Begin by lying on your back with your legs straight then repeat the overhead shoulder assessment.

If the shoulder range of motion improves in this position, there is a stability issue limiting the overhead mobility.

If no change, progress to see if a latissimus dorsi mobility issue is restricting the shoulder movement. 

Latissimus Dorsi Restriction 

Start in a similar position as above, but this time bend your knees. Then repeat the overhead shoulder assessment.

If the motion improves, there is a latissimus dorsi mobility issue limiting the shoulder movement. 

Pelvic Positioning 

We can also assess whether the pelvis positioning is influencing the shoulder overhead mobility. 

First, rotate your pelvis forward which is called an anterior pelvic tilt. Then try to lift your arms overhead. If the shoulder range of motion improved, there is potentially a latissimus dorsi mobility problem restricting overhead mobility. 

We can also rotate the pelvis backwards, called a posterior pelvic tilt, by squeezing the glutes to level off the pelvis. If the shoulder range of motion decreased, it suggests the latissimus dorsi is involved. If the shoulder range of motion increases, then it is a core stability problem which is limiting the overhead mobility.


Of course, there can be multiple factors involved with overhead shoulder mobility. It is possible to have both a mobility and a stability issue limiting the movement. So it is important to go through the entire assessment to determine which strategies will be best to improve the shoulder range of motion. The second part of this series will cover some mobility and stability exercises to improve overhead shoulder mobility.