Shoulder Exercises

The following exercises are designed to strengthen your shoulders and increase their range of motion. Several of the exercises require you to use an elastic exercise band. Exercise bands can be found in medical equipment stores, sporting goods stores, and some drug stores and are color-coded according to how much resistance they provide. I recommend that you start with the band that offers the least resistance and work your way up. (In the Thera-Band line, the lowest-resistance bands are yellow.)

If you are experiencing persistent shoulder pain, you should consult a doctor before beginning an exercise program. Once you’ve been cleared to begin exercising, you can try out the exercises below to see which ones are most helpful for you. Remember that if any of the exercises cause you more pain than you had when you started, or pain that lasts longer than two hours, you should consult a doctor or physical therapist. You may simply have to do the exercises more slowly or for fewer repetitions next time.

Range-of-motion exercises

Side arm raise
This exercise can improve your ability to reach overhead and to the side, which can aid in dressing and grooming.

Sit or stand with your arms at your sides and your palms facing forward. Slowly lift your arms out to your sides and up above your head, going only as far as is comfortable. Hold the position for 5 seconds and then return to the starting position. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions once a day.


Front arm raise
This exercise can make it easier to reach overhead, which can aid in dressing and grooming.

Sit or stand with your arms at your sides and your palms facing in toward your body. Raise your arms in front of you and up over your head, going only as far as is comfortable. Hold the position for 5 seconds. Slowly lower your arms and return them to the starting position. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions once a day.


Behind-the-back cane lift
This exercise makes it easier for you to reach behind yourself and can help with hygiene and dressing.

For this exercise, you need a cane, a broom handle, or something similar. Hold the cane behind your back with both hands. Your palms should be facing backward. Bend your elbows to lift the cane up. Hold the position for 5 seconds and then return to the starting position. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions once a day.


Shoulder “chicken wing”
By making it easier for you to reach behind your head, this exercise can help you groom and dress yourself.

Stand with your hands against the side of your head, your palms turned inward, your fingers curled, and your elbows touching in front of your body. Slowly move your elbows out to your sides until they are even with your shoulders. Hold the position for 5 seconds, keeping your hands against your head. Return to the starting position. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions once a day.


Shoulder rollbacks
This exercise helps to relieve tension and pain in your shoulders and upper back.

Standing or sitting, raise your shoulders toward your ears and “roll” them backward. Return to the starting position. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions once a day.


Scapular squeezes
This exercise helps improve your posture, which can give you greater range of motion in your shoulders.

Stand with your arms at your side and your elbows bent to 90 degrees. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you rotate your arms back and out. Hold the position for 5 seconds, then relax. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions once a day.


Strengthening exercises

Wall push-ups
This exercise helps to build strength in the front of your shoulders.

Stand about 12–18 inches from a wall. Face the wall and place your palms on it at shoulder height. Slowly bend your elbows, bringing your face closer to the wall, then push back up to the starting position. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions once every other day.


“Arm out” with exercise band
This exercise strengthens the rotator cuff and improves shoulder stability.

Attach your exercise band to a secure object at waist level (a doorknob works well). Stand with the anchoring object at your right side. Place a rolled-up towel between your left elbow and your body and hold the exercise band in your left hand. Your left elbow should be bent to 90 degrees. Rotate your arm outward, stretching the band out to your left side while keeping your wrist straight and your elbow bent to 90 degrees. Return to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions, then switch sides and repeat. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions for each arm every other day.


Arm pull-in with exercise band
This exercise strengthens the rotator cuff and improves shoulder stability.

Secure the elastic band at waist level. Sit or stand with the anchoring object at your right side and hold the exercise band in your right hand. Your elbow should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Rotate your arm inward, pulling the band across your body, while keeping your elbow close to your body and bent to 90 degrees. Return to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions, then switch sides and repeat. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions for each arm every other day.


Exercise band pull-back
This exercise helps to build strength at the back of the shoulder.

Wrap your exercise band around a secure object at waist level so that you can hold both ends of the band. Face the anchoring object. Hold one end of the band in each hand and place your hands at your sides. Pull the ends of the bands back, keeping your elbows straight. Return to the starting position. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions every other day.


Side arm rows
This exercise strengthens the muscles in the back of the shoulder and the muscles in your “core,” which help to improve your posture.

Attach the exercise band to a secure object at waist level so that you can hold both ends of the band. Sit in a chair facing the anchoring object, with your back unsupported and maintaining proper posture. (You have proper sitting posture when your weight is evenly distributed over your sitting bones, your shoulders are in line with your hips, and your ears are in line with your shoulders.) Keep your elbows bent at your sides. Hold one end of the exercise band in each hand. Squeeze your shoulder blades together while pulling your arms back. Slowly return to the starting position. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions every other day.


Biceps curls
This exercise builds strength at the front of the shoulder.

Sit in a chair with the exercise band anchored beneath one of the legs. Hold the band in one hand, with your palm facing up. Bending your arm at the elbow, pull the band upward. Return to the starting position. Do 10 repetitions, then switch arms and repeat. Do 1 set of 10 repetitions for each arm every other day.

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