12 Exercises and Stretches for Shoulder Pain

With the proper physiotherapy exercises for shoulder pain, the aches can subside in a couple of weeks. But, how long will shoulders need to completely recover will depend on what’s causing the problem. 

We compiled a couple of practical stretches and exercises that can give you some relief. However, if the pain doesn’t go away in 6 to 12 weeks, talk to a doctor despite these activities. You must maximize your recovery in the comfort of your home and avoid overburdening the shoulder.

Do a Warm Up First

Before you start working with the shoulder muscles, you should do a warm-up first. Its widely accepted that warm-ups before any physical activity offer greater optimum performance. Both active and passive warm-ups evoke metabolic, neural, temperature, and psychology-related benefits

They increase the body temperature without depleting the energy. Arm circles, for example, are a great way to start. They get the blood flowing to the shoulders and allow more effortless movement at the shoulder joint. Overhead motions and pulling the shoulder blades together can also help.

Note: You shouldn’t experience any pain when exercising. If you do, don’t ignore it. Talk to a physical therapist.

● Passive Internal Rotation

To work with the subscapularis muscles, you need to use a light stick. Hold it behind the back with one hand, and take the other end of the stick with the other hand. Next, stretch the shoulder by pulling the stick horizontally to the side. Hold for 30 seconds, relax for another 30 seconds, and do the same on each side. Repeat four times on each side, 5 to 6 days a week

● Passive External Rotation

The same approach can be used to work the teres minor and infraspinatus muscles. You should feel its impact on the back of the shoulder. Use the same light stick, this time on the front. Hold both ends with each hand horizontally. 

The elbow shouldn’t be more than a fist distance away from the sides. Push the stick to the left to a point where you feel a pull but not pain. Hold for 30 seconds, relax for another 30 seconds, and repeat on the right side. Do four repetitions 5 to 6 days a week.

● Standing Row

If you have an elastic stretch band at hand, you can work with the upper back and back shoulder muscles. The band creates resistance, and it’s easy to use. Close the door and create a 3-foot-long loop with the band to start. Tie both ends and attach one of them to the doorknob. 

Stand near the door with a straight back, and use your left hand to take hold of the other end of the band. Pull it towards you and bend the elbow at the side. Keep the left arm close to your side, and squeeze the shoulder blades as you pull the band. Return to the starting position and repeat.

● Elbow Flexion

Use comfortable weights to work with the upper arms and shoulders. Stand tall and distribute the weight evenly on both feet. Position the elbows near the sides and bring the weights towards the shoulders. Keep holding for few seconds, release, and repeat. 

Note: Talk to a specialist about the weights you can use.

● Elbow Extension

Use weights in one arm. Stand tall and distribute the body weight evenly. Raise the arm holding the weights and bend the elbow behind the head. Place the opposite hand over the bent arm to support its weight without arching the back. Carefully straighten the elbow and position the weight over the head. Keep holding for couple of seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat. 

● Scapular Protraction/Retraction

Lie on the stomach on a bed or table and let the affected arm hang loosely from the side. Hold weights with the loose arm, and with a straight elbow, lift it as much as you can. While lifting, squeeze the shoulder blades, return to the starting position, and repeat. 

● Horizontal Abduction

From the same position as the scapular protraction, lift weights with the loose arm straight. Raise the arm to eye level. Carefully lower the arm and repeat. 

● External Arm Rotation

Take a comfortable position on the floor or bed. Lie on the back. Extend the left arm straight and bend the elbow at a 90° angle. Your fingers should be in a pointing towards the ceiling. Move the arm in an arc by keeping the bent elbow on the floor. If you have pain at a 90° angle, do a 45° angle instead.

● Lateral Raises

Hold light dumbbells in each hand and stand with the feet slightly hip-width apart. Raise the hands to the sides until you reach shoulder level. Keep engaging the core muscles and lower the arms down the sides as you do it. Do 12 to 15 reps, three to four times a week.

● Reverse Fly

For this exercise, you will need two water bottles in each hand. Stand with the feet hip-width apart and hinge forward. Let the arms hang down and palms inward. Squeeze the shoulder blades and raise both arms to the sides. Lower the arms and repeat.

● External Rotation

Lie down on a comfortable surface, with a healthy arm cradling the head. Hold the affected arm at the side and bend the elbow at a 90° angle. Lift dumbbells as you raise the weight vertically. Carefully lower the arm and repeat.

● Internal Rotation

Lie down on the side of the arm that is affected. Place a folded cloth under the head so that the spine will remain straight. Position the affected arm against the side and bend the elbow at a 90° angle. Raise the weight to a vertical position. Carefully lower the arm and repeat.

Other Methods to Curb the Shoulder Pain

When paired with physical activity, having a couple of tips can also come in handy. They can ease the pain and offer subtle relief. Such as:

● Applying a hot compress to ease the pain and muscle tightness.

● Applying a cold compress to reduce the aches and inflammation.

● Resting the affected arm by refraining from strenuous physical activity.

● Do regular stretches to work on your flexibility and range of motion.

● Using OTC meds (i.e., aspirin or ibuprofen) to control the pain and inflammation.

If you’ve recently experienced a shoulder injury, or the shoulder pain is getting in the way of your daily life, then talk to a specialist. Be sure to consult with your doctor before implementing any weights and strenuous activities, especially during recovery. 

Overall, the exercises listed here are meant to help with pain in the shoulders. But, if the area has been seriously injured, you would need to receive proper treatment first. Next, your doctor will suggest the best form of quick relief from shoulder pain. Lastly, be extra careful when performing these exercises to reap the results.