13 Physical Therapy Shoulder Pain Exercises & Rehab

You might not realize it, but you use your shoulders daily to lift, reach, pull, push, carry, and press.  Almost everyone will experience some form of painful shoulder and soreness during their lifetime – even if you don’t play sports.

Sadly, in some cases, it can become a chronic problem. Chronic pain makes everyday activities such as picking up a child or pet, carrying groceries, reaching for something, combing your hair, or getting dressed become difficult. If you experience a prevalence of shoulder pain for more than a few days, consider scheduling an appointment with a healthcare professional.

If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, feel free to tackle this list of shoulder pain rehab exercises: 

To help my patients (and myself), I put together a list of my favorite shoulder stretches and exercises. You can download a PDF here.

Using Physical Therapy For Shoulder Pain Relief

Often your first step towards gaining shoulder pain relief is to understand your body and push yourself to do motion exercises. Your shoulder is not just a simple joint, but rather a ball and socket joint, held together by muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  All parts of the shoulder work together to achieve rotation and stability, so you can perform daily activities with ease.

Shoulder Anatomy

You can experience discomfort or severe pain if just one component suffers injury. In some cases, the pain in your shoulder occurs because of some other region of the body that works with the shoulder. If you have mild shoulder tendonitis, physical therapy exercises are a fantastic treatment.

Treatment for shoulder pain can include some shoulder exercises that are complex and best performed with the help of a physical therapist, especially after sustaining shoulder injuries.  However, others are easy at-home workouts that might relieve the pain and prevent future bouts of discomfort. Treating shoulder pain often takes time but learning how to get rid of shoulder pain through exercise therapy is very simple.

Shoulder Warm-Up Exercises

Here is a list of warmups that will help loosen your shoulder blade muscles and joints prior to exercising. It is imperative that you undergo a thorough warm-up to get your blood flowing and help with pain reduction.

Arm-Across-Chest Stretch

01 Arm Across Chest Stretch

You want to warm up the muscles and joints so using the Arm-Across-Chest stretch is a great way to loosen up your upper arm. While performing the exercise be sure to lower your shoulders if you experience pain.

  1. Let your right arm hang near your waist.
  2. Use your left hand to grab your right elbow and pull the right arm across your chest towards your left arm. Ideally, you should be able to pull your arms across your chest and never experience discomfort.
  3. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds and feel a stretch in your shoulder and upper arm.
  4. Repeat with your other arm. Do both sides three to five times.

Neck Stretches

02 Neck Stretches

The neck often plays a role in shoulder pain so simple neck stretches are ideal. This exercise can also be used as a warmup.

  1. Stand with your feet positioned hip-width apart.
  2. Allow your arms to hang loose at your sides.
  3. Look straight ahead
  4. Tip your head to the right and try to touch your ear to your shoulder.
  5. You will feel the stretch that pulls along your left shoulder and neck.
  6. Hold for 10 seconds
  7. Repeat the exercise on the back shoulder.
  8. Perform three reps for each side.

Other Resources:

8 Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Exercises for Pain Relief

Simple Shoulder Pain Exercises

Following you will find a wide range of exercises that research has shown will help with shoulder pain Each one is easy to perform so you won’t have to jump through any hoops to start the steps. Give this shoulder pain workout routine a try!

Shoulder Roll

03 Shoulder Roll

Another basic exercise that helps loosen you up is the shoulder roll. Many perform this as a warmup for the shoulder blades. It is easy to implement. Doing these shoulder motions will help with circular motion.

  1. Stand with your back straight and your feet apart.
  2. Dangle your arms at your sides
  3. Take a deep breath and lift your shoulders up to slowly rotate.
  4. Move your shoulders back while lifted so that you squeeze your shoulder blade muscles together.
  5. Exhale and lower your shoulders.
  6. Move your shoulders forward and you will feel a stretch along the backside of your shoulder blades.
  7. Repeat 10 times

External Band Rotation

04 External Band Rotation

External Band Rotations is a good shoulder strengthening exercise using external rotation. You’ll need a resistance or exercise band to perform the exercise.

  1. Attach a resistance band to an object at elbow level
  2. Grab the exercise band with your hand using an overhand grip. Stand tall and bring your elbow up so that the upper part of your arm is in line with your shoulder.
  3. Keep your arm bent at 90 degrees. Your forearm should be running parallel to the ground.
  4. Externally rotate your hand and forearm away from your body keeping your elbow at your side.
  5. Reverse the movement back to the starting position.  Your shoulder joint benefits from this exercise.
  6. Perform five to 10 reps.

Internal Band Rotation

05 Internal Band Rotation

The Internal Band Rotation is a common internal rotation exercise performed by sports physical therapists for individuals with shoulder problems. You can also perform it at home. This exercise might be difficult if you have an injured arm but if you push yourself then it will start to become easier each time.

  1. Use a door to anchor the elastic band at waist height.
  2. Hold the handle in with your left hand.
  3. Stand three to four feet back from the door.
  4. Hold your head straight and keep your abdominal muscles tight.
  5. Point your active arm so it is parallel with the floor and pointed away from your torso at a 45-degree angle.
  6. Internally rotate your arm against the elastic band.
  7. Touch your torso with your hand.
  8. Return your hand to its original starting position.
  9. Perform 5 reps on each arm.

Lateral Raises

06 Lateral Raises

You’ll require a pair of dumbbells to perform Lateral Raises. This is a popular exercise used to build shoulder muscles.  Ideally, you should use very light weights, especially if you have a shoulder injury.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand while standing
  2. Keep your back perfectly straight and brace your abdominal muscles.
  3. With controlled movement, slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side so that your arms are parallel to the floor. Your elbow should be slightly bent.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Perform 10 to 12 reps.

Standing Upright Rows

08 Standing Upright Rows

Standing rows are frequently performed by strength trainers for shoulder exercises. However, it is also an excellent exercise for pain relief.  You will need a barbell or substitute two hand weights for this exercise.

  1. Stand upright
  2. Grasp a barbell or weight using an overhand grip.
  3. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  4. Pull your shoulders back while arching your lower back.
  5. Lift the barbell up so it is just under your chin
  6. Make sure your elbows are higher than your hands. If not, pull your elbow up.
  7. Lower the bar back and repeat
  8. Perform 10 reps

External Torso Rotation

09 External Torso Rotation

The External Torso Rotation is a classic twist type of exercise.  You can perform it without excessive discomfort if you suffer from neck pain.

  1. Sit in a chair.
  2. Tighten your abdominal muscles.
  3. Exhale while rotating your torso to one side.
  4. Keep your hips facing forward.
  5. Rotate your torso, shoulders, and head as one.
  6. Pause and then return to your original forward-facing position.
  7. Alternate twisting sides.

Internal Torso Rotation

10 Internal Torso Rotation

With Internal Torso Rotation, you are going to use TRX grips to work deeper muscles in your torso and shoulder.  There are also torso rotation machines in gyms or that a physical therapist might utilize as part of therapy. Anytime you use TRX, you want to make sure that each foot is stable.

  1. Holding onto the affixed TRX with both hands you will lean your body back with your legs spread slightly.
  2. Use your body’s inner torso to rotate to the side and then back to your original position. Your hands will be off to the side.
  3. Adjust the intensity by taking a single step forward or back.
  4. Perform 10 reps on each side.

Shoulder I-Y-T’s

11 Shoulder I Y T’s

Shoulder I-Y-T’s refers to the positions of your body during the workout. You’ll be laying on the floor for this exercise, so a mat comes in handy.

  1. Lie on your stomach in a prone position.
  2. Extend your arms and legs.  Your palms should be flat on the mat and your toes pointed.
  3. Stiffen your abdominal muscles
  4. Pull your shoulders back and down. You will attempt to hold this position throughout the exercise.
  5. Exhale and lift your arms off the floor. You must maintain the letter ‘I’ formation for 5 to 10 seconds.  Perform two to four reps.
  6. Exhale and lift your arms off the floor to form a ‘Y’ position. Your palms will be inward.
  7. Use your shoulders to implement the Y lift of your arms. Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds.
  8. Perform two to four reps.
  9. Exhale and move your arms into a ‘T’ position. Again, use your shoulders to lift your arms. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Perform two to four reps.

Shoulder Y and Ts

12 Shoulder Y And Ts

You will stand in an upright position and use dumbbells. Only use light dumbbells.

  1. Lean forward slightly.
  2. Bring your arms outward straightening your elbows and holding the dumbbells.
  3. Slowly lower your arms.
  4. Repeat five times
  5. Position your arms so that your palms are facing outward and your thumbs are pointing towards the ceiling.
  6. Lift with your elbows up to shoulder level.
  7. Slowly lower.
  8. Repeat five times.

Shoulder U’s

13 Shoulder U’s

The Reverse Shoulder Stretch is like making a U formation. The exercise is relatively easy and requires no equipment. This will help stretch your posterior deltoid, the muscle on the backs of your shoulders.

  1. Stand straight.
  2. Interlock your fingers behind your back at the top of your butt to form a U.
  3. Maintain a straight back with your shoulder blade muscles together.
  4. Keep your arm bone straight on each arm.
  5. Push your arms up away from your buttocks and low
  6. Hold for 30 seconds.
  7. Perform a rep of five.

Rhomboid Rows

14 Rhomboid Rows

Your rhomboid muscles help you maintain your posture. A Rhomboid Row can be helpful to your shoulder joints and relieve shoulder pain.  You will need a pair of dumbbells and an incline bench for this exercise.

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in each one of your hands.
  2. Stand so you are facing the seat of the incline bench.
  3. Straddle the seat and lean your upper body forward against the bench.
  4. Bend your knees so that your feet will slide backward.
  5. Flex both ankles and dig your toes into the floor to offer support. Your arms should be hanging down.
  6. Exhale and bend your elbows so that you are lifting the weights upward toward your rib cage.
  7. When you reach the top of the lift movement squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  8. Hold for three seconds and then lower the weights
  9. Perform 10 to 12 reps.

Shoulder Surgery and Rehab

If you suffer torn rotator cuff muscles, then you are probably going to require surgery. A rotator cuff inury is painful and requires rehab. Other shoulder conditions might also require surgery to rectify.  Following, the procedure for a rotator cuff tendon injury, you will be assigned physical therapy at a trained facility and at-home shoulder stretches to help you overcome functional limitations.

Exercises are a great way to free up a frozen shoulder and relieve discomfort for people with shoulder pain. You might be tempted to turn to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications but stretching is often an effective way to cope with problems. Active rest and ice are also effective treatments at home.

It doesn’t matter if you are a weekend warrior, an active athlete, a stay-at-home mom, or you work behind a desk, no one wants to suffer shoulder discomfort. I hope that this list of shoulder therapy exercises will help you find relief.

Check out our full list of physical therapy exercises.

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Dr. Kristina DeMatas

Dr. DeMatas practices holistic, evidence-based family medicine that focuses on treating injuries and transforming lives through prevention, rehabilitation, and diet. She is a licensed, practicing Physician at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL. Read bio.

2 thoughts on “13 Physical Therapy Shoulder Pain Exercises & Rehab”

  1. Thanks. My left shoulder has been painful only in certain positions. I don’t want to let it get “frozen”. I did all of these – no weights – and I expected more pain – but hardly any! Thanks, I believe I can keep this up and see if I can get whatever “kink” is in there worked out.

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