Exercise for Shoulder Pain

Common reasons for shoulder pain

The most common reasons for shoulder pain are impingement and rotator cuff tendinitis. This causes pain when you are reaching up overhead or reaching backwards, such as reaching into the back seat of the car.

Pain can range from mild to severe. Pain is typically worse with heavy lifting or pushing. If there is significant weakness of the shoulder in rotating the arm, this is a sign of a possible rotator cuff tear.

Exercises for shoulder pain

There a several simple exercises for shoulder pain that can not only eliminate the pain in the shoulder, but also help prevent problems before they develop.

The first exercise for shoulder pain involves working on range of motion. Grab the wrist of the injured arm with the other hand and lift the arm overhead. If the shoulder is tight and painful, do this very slowly and go up and back down over a few minutes.

Do not force the arm up, but work on slow stretching. If the arm is very tight, warming of the shoulder first with heating pads or a hot shower will help.

Another exercise for shoulder pain is working on external rotation. This is done with the elbows both at your side and placing a stick between your hands. Then rotate the arm out using the other hand and using the stick to help push the injured arm while maintaining the elbows at your side. Again, do this slowly and do not force it. Work on gentle stretching.

The final stretch for shoulder pain is for internal rotation. Place the injured arm at the bottom of your back and the good arm from the top. Hold one end of a towel with each hand. Use the good hand to gently pull up for the injured arm behind your back with the towel between the hands.

Besides range of motion, important exercise for shoulder pain works on strengthening the rotator cuff. I prefer using Thera-Bands if these are available, but light dumbbells can also be used. The two most important exercises are internal and external rotation. These should be done with the elbow kept at your side.

The Thera-Bands can be tied to a doorknob and changing the way you are facing, work on internal or external rotation. The shoulder exercises can also be done lying on your side and using a dumbbell in either arm for internal and external rotation.

I prefer 3 sets of exercises with a short break between sets. The shoulder muscles should feel a little fatigued by end of the exercises. Increase the resistance or number repetitions over time to improve your strength.

After performing the exercises

After performing exercises for shoulder pain, a cool down will help prevent inflammation. I suggest icing the shoulder down for 10 minutes afterwards.

If the shoulder pain is severe, if you have significant weakness, or if you do not improve over time see an orthopedic shoulder specialist to get evaluated. Full-thickness tears of the rotator cuff do not heal and may require surgery.

Most people with shoulder injuries or shoulder pain did not require surgery and will improve with the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Performing the above exercises will help prevent shoulder injuries. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, schedule an appointment with the orthopedic doctors at Westchester Sport and Spine for an accurate diagnosis.

Dr. Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. He is the Director of Orthopedic Surgery at Westchester Health Associates and has subspecialty training in knee and shoulder surgery, including minimally invasive surgery and arthroscopy. Dr. Weinstein is a Board Examiner for the American Board of Orthopedic Surgeons, determining certification for other orthopedic surgeons.