Written By: Chloe Wilson BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy
Do exercises for shoulder pain really help? Absolutely! Exercises help to improve the strength, stability, mobility and flexibility of the shoulder to allow full, pain-free movement and helping you get back to the activities you love.
Exercises for shoulder pain help to restore the natural rhythm, strength and motion of the shoulder.
Different exercises are suitable at different stages of rehab with shoulder problems, depending on the severity and nature of the problem. Here we look at:
This guide will help you find the right exercises for shoulder pain for you, will give you guidance on how to perform them correctly, how to progress appropriately and top tips on getting the best results.
Is your shoulder feeling really stiff and sore to move? These mobility exercises for shoulder pain work on regaining free movement at the shoulder by stretching out the structures inside the joint such as the joint capsule as well as the surrounding muscles.
Shoulder problems are often associated with stiffness, leading to pain and/or limiting how much the arm can move. These mobility shoulder rehab exercises help to gently get the arm moving to help loosen the joint up – they are a great place to start.
Anyone wanting to improve their arm and shoulder movements be it after an injury, surgery or anything that has caused the shoulder to stiffen. These mobility exercises for shoulder pain are targeted to those who have lost arm movement and have a stiff shoulder with restricted movement, rather than people who have full or almost movement – arm stretches would be more appropriate there.
Even if it feels like you can’t move your arm at all, these shoulder rehab exercises will help. Visit the shoulder mobility exercises section to find out more
Stretching exercises for shoulder pain are for those people who have full or almost full shoulder movement, but who are looking for a bit more flexibility or are wanting to stretch before/after exercise to ensure the best results and help prevent injury.
Anyone want to improve flexibility who does not have an underlying shoulder problem – if you do, you need to concentrate on that first. You might want to start with the shoulder mobility exercises and come back to these towards the end of your rehab. Visit the Arm Stretches section to find out more
Rotator cuff exercises for shoulder pain target the group of muscles that surrounds the shoulder joint and provides both stability and movement of the shoulder. Weakness, tightness and/or damage to the muscles such as a rotator cuff tear can change the way the shoulder moves which can lead to problems such as impingement and pain.
A vicious cycle can then develop causing the shoulder to get stiffer and weaker, resulting in more pain. These shoulder rehab exercises work on improving both the strength and mobility of the shoulder.
Everyone! Most cases of shoulder pain will be accompanied by some level of rotator cuff weakness and or tightness. It’s simply a case of working at the right level for you. If you are recovering from an injury such as a rotator cuff tear or surgery such as a subacromial decompression, start with the basic rotator cuff exercises, where you will find a combination of strengthening and stretching exercises for the rotator cuff.
If you are further down the line, or have been getting a few niggles in your shoulder which you want to address before a problem develops, you can try the more challenging rotator cuff exercises for shoulder pain. Visit the rotator cuff exercises section to find out more.
Resistance bands are a really useful tool when it comes to improving the strength and control around the shoulder. They are cheap, easy to use, extremely versatile and really effective. Resistance band exercises for shoulder pain not only add some variety to your usual exercises, but are an excellent tool for improving function.
You can start using resistance bands with your shoulder rehab exercises, usually between 2-6 weeks following a shoulder injury, once you have mastered the rotator cuff exercises. Visit the Theraband Shoulder Rehab Exercises section to find out more.
Shoulder blade stability is a common problem which can lead to a whole host of shoulder problems. With so much movement available at the shoulder joint, the scapula plays a vital role in controlling all that movement.
If there is weakness in the scapular stabilization muscles then structures in and around the shoulder are prone to damage through tearing and pinching and movement may be restricted.
Scapular stabilizing exercises are useful for almost anyone with shoulder problems, but are frequently forgotten about. They should be done alongside rotator cuff strengthening exercises to ensure your shoulder is both strong and stable so it can function properly. Visit the scapular stabilizing exercises section to find a whole range of stability exercises for shoulder pain, from beginners to advanced.
Frozen shoulder aka adhesive capsulitis is a common problem. Pain builds up in the shoulder and movement gets increasingly restricted. This may develop gradually for no obvious cause, or following an injury or surgery.
Gradually, pain levels reduce but the stiffness can persist for months before finally settling down. Doing frozen shoulder rehab exercises regularly can really help reduce stiffness and pain and can help reduce the recovery time.
Anyone suffering from a frozen shoulder, whatever stage. Those in the painful phase should concentrate on the lower level exercises to keep as much movement and strength as they can, whereas those who are in the stiff phase without much pain can work on the stretching and mobility exercises to regain lost movement and strength.
These exercises are also suitable for people recovering from frozen shoulder surgery. With each of these shoulder rehab exercises for frozen shoulder you will find guidance as to when the exercise is appropriate, how it should feel, how to progress and what you are aiming for. Visit the frozen shoulder exercises section to find out more.
But why and how do shoulder rehab exercises help? The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the whole body, allowing the arm to move large amounts in multiple directions through a complex combination of rolling, gliding, spinning and sliding movements.
It achieves this by the shape of the joint, sacrificing stability for mobility, through having a very shallow socket for the upper arm bone to sit in so as not to hinder arm movement. The muscle network surrounding the joint is vital to ensure that it remains stable and can move freely.
Anything that interferes with any aspect of this, be it muscle weakness, tightness, bony abnormalities, injury, inflammation or postural changes, can affect shoulder and arm movement and result in pain.
Before starting exercises for shoulder pain, you must see your doctor. It is really important to find out what the underlying cause of any shoulder pain is to ensure that you get the right treatment.
Shoulder rehab exercises will help in most cases, but they won’t all always be appropriate. So talk to your doctor or physical therapist before starting any new exercises for shoulder pain to make sure they are right for you.
Page Last Updated: 21/09/2021
Next Review Due: 21/09/2023