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The shoulder joint is a complicated region of the body. It’s a synovial ball and socket joint consisting of the articulation between the head of the humerus (ball) and the glenoid fossa (socket) of the scapula. The shoulder is less stable than the hip joint because its socket is more shallow. Although the shoulder is unstable, it’s also very mobile, providing a delicate balance between mobility and stability.
Chronic shoulder injuries are common in older people ages 50 and up with stiff joints or in people who perform repetitive overhead motions such as serving in volleyball or tennis, throwing a baseball, swimming, or painting. Acute shoulder injuries happen by falling on an outstretched arm or directly on the shoulder, tearing a muscle while performing, weightlifting and climbing, and slipping in the shower, among other traumatic events. That’s why having a robust repertoire of shoulder pain exercises to resort to is a great idea, no matter your age or fitness level.
If you’re having shoulder pain, it’s important to speak with a medical professional to evaluate the area properly. There are specific exercises to help with shoulder joint pain, and you can use them both preventatively to avoid shoulder issues and as rehabilitation following injuries.
Try these 10 shoulder pain exercises to increase your range of motion and strengthen your shoulder muscles.
Terms to Know
- Scapula: shoulder blade
- Abduction: moving the arm away from the midline of the body
- Adduction: moving the arm towards the midline of the body
- Flexion: raising the arm straight forward
- Extension: moving the arm straight behind
- Internal Rotation: moving the arm with the elbow bent inwards toward the midline
- External Rotation: moving the arm with the elbow bent outward away from the body
- Circumduction: moving the arm in a circle
- Scapular Protraction: moving the shoulder blades forward and toward the side of the body
- Scapular Retraction: moving the shoulder blades back and toward the body’s midline
The first five exercises are stretches to increase your range of motion. The following five exercises are for strengthening specific muscles.
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It’s not just shoulder pain exercises we know a lot about. Author Mark Barroso, MS, LAT, ATC, CSCS, has studied the best way to achieve muscular success for many years. Before becoming a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and both a Certified and Licensed Athletic Trainer, Barosso graduated with a B.A. in Journalism and Professional Writing. You can still find his work in Men’s Health, Men’s Journal, Muscle & Fitness, Daily Burn, and others. With all of his expertise, it’s not why trust SPY; but how can you not?
Best Shoulder Pain Exercises
Shoulder Joint Actions: Abduction/Adduction (side to side), Flexion/Extension (forward/backward) Circumduction (in a circle)
How to do this shoulder pain exercise: Stand in a bent-over position with the injured arm hanging down and the other arm holding onto a table, bench or chair. Sway the body left and right to work abduction and adduction. The shoulder should move as a result of your body swaying; don’t just move the shoulder. Rock forward and backward to work on passive flexion and extension of the shoulder. Make clockwise and counterclockwise circles with the body to work on shoulder circumduction. Do abduction/adduction, flexion/extension and circumduction 3 times, 30 seconds each.
Poster Capsule Stretch
Shoulder Joint Action: Horizontal Adduction
Muscles Stretched: Posterior Deltoid
How to do this shoulder pain exercise: Stand with the affected shoulder at 90 degrees of abduction, raising it to shoulder level. Now move the affected shoulder across the body, trying to keep the scapula stabilized and depressed downward. Grab the elbow of the affected arm with the other arm and pull across with the hand. Pull across for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Shoulder Joint Action: Scapular Retraction, Horizontal Abduction
How to do this shoulder pain exercise: Stand facing a doorway or the corner of a room with the arms abducted at 90 degrees (elbows form right angles with fingers pointing towards the ceiling). Then place forearms against the sides of the doorway or wall. Slowly walk into the corner/doorway, feeling a stretch in the front of the shoulder and chest. Perform the stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Supine Cane Flexion and External Rotation
Muscles Worked (Flexion): Pectoralis Major, Latissimus Dorsi, Anterior Deltoid
How to do this shoulder pain exercise (Flexion): Lie on a bench or table and grab a shoulder wand or cane. Grab the bar with both hands using palms facing down (pronated grip). Start with the arms straight down and the bar held in front of the hips. Raise both arms overhead until you feel a good stretch. Lower the bar back down. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Muscles Worked (External Rotation): Infraspinatus, Teres Minor
How to do this shoulder pain exercise (External Rotation): Lie on your back and grab the “T” part of the shoulder wand with the affected arm and the other end with the good arm. Position the bar at an angle so that the injured shoulder is at 90 degrees of abduction and horizontal rotation (right angle). Let the injured limb relax and have the good arm move the cane so that the affected arm rotates backward. Push until you feel a good stretch, then bring the affected arm down against the cane. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Internal Rotation Stretch with Strap
Muscles Worked: Subscapularis, Teres Major, Anterior Deltoid
How to do this shoulder pain exercise: To stretch the right shoulder, place the right hand inside one of the loops of a stretch-out strap and place that hand behind your lower back. Grab the other end of the strap with your left hand above the left shoulder. Pull with your left hand, which will cause the right hand to come up your back. This action is moving the right shoulder into internal rotation. Hold the stretch where comfortable for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Resistance Band Internal and External Rotation
Muscle Worked: Subscapularis, Teres Major
How to do this shoulder pain exercise (Internal Rotation): Stand holding one end of a resistance band at waist level with the shoulder at 90 degrees of abduction (elbow bent). Keep the elbow pressed into a rolled-up towel between your obliques and your elbow. Stand holding the band, so the tension is on the band when the shoulder rotates outward. This is the starting position. Rotate the arm inward across the body until the palm faces your stomach. Rotate the arm back out. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Muscles Worked (External Rotation): Infraspinatus, Teres Minor
How to do this shoulder pain exercise (External Rotation): Keeping the band in the same hand as you did with internal rotation, turn around and face the other way with your body. The band tension should be pulling you inwards, and the starting position is with the hand near the stomach. Rotate the arm outward away from the body. Do not extend the elbow for either of these motions.
Loop a resistance band with handles around a waist level bar or attach a resistance band to a door anchor to perform this exercise.
Muscles Worked: Supraspinatus, Anterior Deltoid
How to do this shoulder pain exercise: Stand holding a dumbbell in each hand with arms at your sides and elbows straight. Raise your arms at a 30-degree angle in relation to the front of your body, meaning not directly in front of your face and slightly out to the side. Raise the weights to eye level with thumbs pointed up towards the ceiling. Return the weights back down. That’s one rep. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Prone Incline Row, Rotation and Press
Muscles Worked: all rotator cuff muscles, deltoids, rhomboids, latissimus dorsi
How to do this shoulder pain exercise: Set a bench on an incline and lean your chest against it so only your toes are on the floor. Using an overhand grip, your arms should be hanging off the edges with a dumbbell in each hand. Row the weights towards you by pinching the shoulder blades together. Externally rotate the shoulder by flipping them back, then press the weight straight overhead. Return to the starting position by repeating the opposite of each movement: lowering the weights down, internally rotating, and straightening the arms.
Ball on the Wall
Muscles Worked: Deltoid, Rotator Cuff, Posterior Capsule
How to do this shoulder pain exercise: Stand facing a wall with your arm extended straight out in front of you. Place a small or medium-sized weighted ball between your hand and the wall. Perform 30 clockwise circles and 30 counterclockwise circles. Keep the scapula depressed down (don’t shrug) during the circles. This exercise will help the scapula stabilize the humerus and help loosen the posterior capsule.
Dumbbell Incline Fly
Muscles Worked: Pectoralis Major, Anterior Deltoid, Supraspinatus
How to do this shoulder pain exercise: Lie on an incline bench or table, holding a dumbbell in each hand with arms straight out and slightly bent over the chest. Slowly lower the arms until the elbows reach the level of the armpit which is around the height of the bench. Return both weights to the starting position. This motion resembles hugging a person.
Shoulder Pain Exercise Products We Recommend
This collapsable, physical therapy-grade tool is excellent for stretching your rotator cuff and shoulder muscles for greater mobility and comfort. It extends to 38 inches in length.Buy: RangeMaster ShoulderWand $21.97
Gaiam Restore Multi-Grip Stretch Strap
This strap helps stretch triceps, hamstrings, hips, lower back, calves, and thighs, in addition to working out shoulder soreness.Buy: Gaiam Restore Multi-Grip Stretch Strap $12.98
THERABAND Professional Latex Resistance Tubing
Adaptable yet straightforward, this latex resistance tubing can help heal injured muscled when used correctly and replace a lot of equipment if you’re traveling with a small bag or suitcase. You can use it to exercise, strengthen muscles, increase motion, and improve conditioning.Buy: THERABAND Professional Latex Resistance Tubing $11.87 (orig. $14.88) 20% OFF
Yes4All Soft Weighted Medicine Ball
At 2 pounds, this small medicine ball is the perfect addition to a low output rehabilitation routine or easy everyday exercises.Buy: Yes4All Soft Weighted Medicine Ball $11.99
Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbell
We can’t say enough about the Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbells. These dumbbells adjust from 5 to 52.5 pounds in 2.5-pound increments up to the first 25 pounds. Why buy multiple dumbbells as you recover when these can grow with you at your pace.Buy: Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbell $224.99
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