Top 5 Exercises for Shoulder Pain

By Rachel Long, PT, DPT

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint that is surrounded by the rotator cuff muscles. The rotator cuff is comprised of 4 different muscles: Infraspinatus, Suprapinatus, Teres Minor, and Subscapularis.  These muscles work together to provide stability in the shoulder and keep the joint in the best position.  If there is dysfunction in the way that these muscles work together, abnormal stresses are placed upon the joint and surrounding tissues which can predispose the shoulder to injury.  

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Common shoulder injuries

  • Tendonitis- Inflammation of the tendon (where the rotator cuff muscle attaches to the bone)
  • Bursitis- Inflammation of the bursa sac (fluid filled sac that reduces friction between tissues in the body)
  • Adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulder)- Adhesions form within the joint capsule and cause a limitation in motion
  • Labral tear- Tear in the cartilage that lines the “socket” of the joint.   
  • Shoulder impingement- compression of soft tissue structures (tendon, ligament, bursa) between bone. 

Exercises for the shoulder aim to increase strength and stability, restore range of motion, posture and stability.  A physical therapist can evaluate your shoulder to develop an individualized treatment program.  Below are some examples of exercises for shoulder pain. 

Side Lying External Rotation

Lay on your uninvolved side.  Put a towel under your involved arm and maintain pressure into towel.  Bend your elbow to 90 degrees and rotate your forearm upward. Repeat 20 times.

Serratus Punch

Begin lying on your back with your arm raised straight upward.  Keep your elbow straight and punch your arm up toward the ceiling, raising your shoulder off the ground.  Repeat 20 times.

Standing Horizontal Abduction

Holding both ends of a resistance band anchored in front of you at shoulder height with your arms straight forward.  Slowly pull your arms apart and backward against the resistance until they are level with your shoulders, then bring them back to the starting position and repeat. Think about squeezing your shoulder blades together as you pull your arms back.  Repeat 20 times

Ball Circles on Wall

Begin in a staggered stance position holding a ball against a wall with your arm straight.

Gently push into the ball, then roll it in small circles clockwise and counterclockwise, moving only your arm. Then change direction and repeat 20 times. 

Wall Walk

Begin in a standing upright position with your arms straight and your hand resting on a wall at shoulder height.  Slowly walk your hand up the wall until you feel a stretch.  Hold for 3-5 seconds and repeat 20 times. 

Because we use our arms for daily activity, shoulder pain can be disabling and impair function.  Intervention including both manual therapy by a physical therapist and an exercise program has been shown to be more beneficial than either intervention alone.  Call us today so we can get you moving better and living better!

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