Stretches and exercises to ease shoulder pain at home.

by John A. Kuri II, MD, Orthopedic surgeon at MedStar Orthopaedic Institute at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital
September 16, 2020

We use our shoulders to do just about everything, from pushing and pulling to lifting and carrying. That’s why it’s common to feel tension—or even pain—in our shoulder joints, especially after doing the same motions over and over again.

While shoulder pain caused by an injury or trauma should be treated by a doctor specializing in orthopedics, there are stretches and exercises you can do at home to get rid of shoulder pain. Exercises that target the shoulders and surrounding muscles can strengthen and stabilize the joint, helping to relieve tightness, improve range of motion, and prevent injury.

Do you have #ShoulderPain? On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Kuri shares 5 stretches and 7 exercises to relieve tightness, strengthen and stabilize your shoulder, and prevent injury: https://bit.ly/33zhfin.

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Common causes of shoulder pain.

Proper shoulder movement requires supporting muscle groups to work together in a coordinated fashion. While shoulder pain can be caused by direct trauma to the shoulder, if the muscles and soft tissues that support the shoulder weaken, become stiff, or are injured, our shoulders become susceptible to injury.

There are a variety of causes of shoulder pain, but most conditions can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Degenerative conditions that occur gradually over time as a result of wear and tear, such as arthritis.
  • Chronic or overuse conditions that result from repetitive overhead motion such as throwing a baseball or painting the walls of a house.
  • Acute injury and trauma after a direct blow to the shoulder or sudden forceful stretch during a fall, car accident, or other unexpected event.

 

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Why it’s important to stretch your shoulders.

Stretching gets your blood flow circulating so you can safely and gradually improve motion and perform shoulder exercises. Shoulder exercises strengthen your shoulder muscles and encourage proper shoulder function, which helps you to:

  • Improve flexibility
  • Increase range of motion
  • Stabilize the joint
  • Prevent future injury
  • Reduce muscle soreness

Exercises and stretches that can relieve shoulder pain.

These five easy shoulder stretches, along with a few exercises, can help you relieve shoulder pain at home with minimal equipment. Consider performing these stretches and exercises three to four days a week to maintain and improve shoulder motion, and gradually progress to the strengthening exercises to improve function. If you feel pain, stop the exercise and call a doctor specializing in orthopedics.

Stretches.

1. Pendulum

  • Lean forward, placing your right hand on a counter or table for support. Allow your left arm to hang relaxed at your side.
  • Gently swing your left arm forward and backward, side-to-side, and in a circular motion. Repeat the motion 10 times.
  • Switch arms and repeat the sequence.

Repetitions: 2 sets of 10 on each side
Tip: Keep your back straight and your knees slightly bent.

2. Crossover arm stretch

  • With relaxed shoulders, gently pull your left arm across your chest.
  • Hold your upper left arm using your right hand, pulling it until you feel the stretch at the back of your shoulder.
  • Hold it for 30 seconds and then release it for 30 seconds.
  • Perform the stretch three more times.
  • Repeat with the opposite arm.

Repetitions: 4 on each side
Tip: Avoid putting pressure on your elbow.

3. Table and wall slides

  • Place both hands on a long table in front of you while sitting down and upright.
  • Slide your hands together forwards along the table to gently stretch overhead as you lean forward.
  • Hold the movement for 5 seconds once you reach your maximum stretch, then slowly return to the upright position.
  • As you progress, move to a wall and try the overhead stretch while standing, using the wall to slide your hands along.

Repetitions: 3 sets of 10 slides
Tip: To make sliding easier, hold a towel or walk your fingers along the surface.

4. Passive internal and external rotation stretch

Internal rotation

  • Hold a yardstick, golf club, or other light stick behind your back with your left hand.
  • Lightly grasp the end of the stick with your right hand.
  • Gently pull the stick horizontally with your right hand until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

External rotation

  • Grasp a broomstick, yardstick, golf club, or other light stick with your left hand in front of your body and the other end of the stick with your right hand.
  • Push the stick horizontally with your right hand until you feel the stretch in the back of your shoulder.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and then relax for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Repetitions: 4 of each on both sides
Tip: Keep hips facing forward and avoid leaning or twisting while pushing or pulling the stick.

5. Sleeper stretch

  • Lie down on your left side on a flat, firm surface.
  • With your shoulder under you, bend your left arm at a 90-degree angle.
  • Use your right arm to push your left arm down until you feel a stretch in the back of your left shoulder.
  • Hold the movement for 30 seconds and then relax for 30 seconds.
  • Switch sides and repeat.

Repetitions: 4 on each side
Tip: Avoiding pressing down on or bending your wrist.

Strengthening exercises.

For each exercise, use light dumbbells that allow you to perform the minimum number of eight repetitions in a set. As the exercise gets easier, progress to three sets of 12 repetitions. Add weight in one-pound increments up to five pounds. Each time you increase weight, begin with three sets of eight repetitions before progressing to 12 repetitions.

1. Scapular retraction/protraction

  • Lie down on a table or bed on your stomach. Let your arm hang over the side with a light dumbbell in your hand..
  • Keep your elbow straight and squeeze your shoulder blade toward the opposite side of your body.
  • Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
  • Switch sides.

Repetitions: 2 sets of 10 on each side
Tip: Be careful not to shrug your shoulder toward your ear.

2. Forward elevation strength

  • Hold light dumbbells in both hands with arms outstretched in front of you.
  • Slowly raise both hands to a slightly overhead position at the same time.
  • Slowly return to a resting position and repeat.
  • As you get stronger, increase your weight while lowering the number of repetitions.

Repetitions: 3 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions on each side
Tip: As you get stronger, widen your hand position so they are raised approximately 6 to 12 inches outside of your shoulders.

3. Trapezius strengthening

  • Place your right knee on a bench, leaning forward to support your body with your right hand on the bench.
  • With your left hand palm facing your body, slowly raise your left arm and rotate your hand to the thumbs-up position.
  • Stop when your left hand reaches shoulder height and your arm is parallel to the floor.
  • Count to five as you lower your left arm to the original position.
  • Repeat on the opposite side.

Repetitions: 3 sets of 20 on each side
Tip: You can add light weight (2 to 3 lbs) to increase the difficulty as the exercise gets easier.

4. Internal and external rotation strength

Internal rotation

  • Make a loop with a 3-foot-long exercise band, tying the ends together. Attach the loop to a doorknob or other stable object.
  • Hold the band with the hand closest to the loop with your elbow at your side and bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Keeping your elbow tight by your side, bring your arm across your body.
  • Slowly return to the start position and repeat.
  • Switch sides.

External rotation

  • Using the same 3-foot-long loop attached to a doorknob or stable object, grasp the loop with the hand furthest from the loop.
  • Keep your elbow tight by your side and bend it at a 90-degree angle.
  • Slowly rotate your arm outward.
  • Return to the start position and repeat.
  • Switch sides.

Repetitions: 3 sets of 8 on each side
Tip: Keep your elbow pressed into your side. You can also do this exercise laying on your side, using light dumbbells to perform a similar motion as when using the bands.

5. Bent-over horizontal abduction

  • Lie down on a table or bed on your stomach. Let your arm hang over the side with a light dumbbell in your hand..
  • Keep your arm straight and slowly raise the dumbbell to eye level.
  • Slowly return to the starting position and repeat.
  • Switch sides.

Repetitions: 3 sets of 8 on each side
Tip: Use slow and controlled movement when lowering the weight.

6. Elbow flexion

  • Stand tall with light dumbbells in each hand.
  • Keeping your elbows close to your sides, bring the weight toward your shoulders.
  • Hold for two seconds and slowly lower to the starting position.
  • Repeat.
  • Increase weight by 1-pound increments as the exercise gets easier.

Repetitions: 3 sets of 8 to 12 on each side
Tip: Use slow and controlled movement when lowering the weight.

7. Elbow extension

  • Stand tall with a light dumbbell in your left hand.
  • Raise your left arm, bending your elbow behind your head. Support your left arm by grasping your upper arm with your right hand.
  • Slowly straighten your elbow, bringing the weight overhead.
  • Hold for two seconds and slowly lower to the starting position.
  • Repeat.
  • Increase weight by 1-pound increments as the exercise gets easier.

Repetitions: 3 sets of 8 to 12 on each side
Tip: Avoid arching your back by tightening your abdominal muscles.

When to see a doctor for shoulder pain.

If you experienced a sudden injury or trauma to your shoulder, or your shoulder pain is worsening and affecting your sleep or quality of life, don’t wait to visit an experienced orthopedic expert.

A highly trained doctor specializing in orthopedics can accurately diagnose your shoulder pain and determine the best course of treatment. From non-invasive treatment options, such as icing, biologic injections, and physical therapy, to minimally invasive or complex surgery, you can count on the fellowship-trained orthopedic experts at MedStar Orthopaedic Institute at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital to get you back to the activities you enjoy without shoulder pain.

Is your shoulder pain getting worse? We can help.
Visit our orthopedic experts at MedStar Orthopaedic Institute at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital.

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Category: Living Well, Staying Active     Tags: MedStar Healthshoulder exercisesshoulder painshoulder stretchesstretchesWellness