Exercises for the Painful Shoulder
The shoulder is really several joints that combine with tendons and muscles to allow a wide range of motion to the arm-from scratching your back to swimming or pitching a baseball. Overusing this mobility, though, has its price. It may lead to increasing problems with muscles and tendons-and to pain. The pain may be temporary and disappear when you rest your muscles, or it may continue and require medical treatment.
Treatment generally involves rest, sometimes medications to relieve pain and inflammation, and, most important, physical therapy or exercises that will help you improve shoulder flexibility and strength.
Remember that when you go back to the sport or other activity that gives you shoulder problems, go back slowly. Warm up well with the following exercises. Gradually increase the number of times you repeat each exercise as your condition improves. Try to do these exercises 2-3 times each day.
Note: Some of these exercises call for you to use weights. The weights can be cans of food or dumbbells weighing 1-5 pounds. For some exercises, you might be able to use stretch tubing or cord available from sporting good stores. Remember to let pain be your guide. If using the muscle hurts, or if you are in pain hours after your exercises, STOP-you may be making the condition worse.
- Pendulum exercise Keep your back straight, but lean forward as shown (see illustration 1). Support yourself with your good arm by holding onto a table or the back of a chair. Let your bad arm hang down with a weight in your hand. Make circles with your arm 3-5 times in one direction, then the same number of times the other way. Start with small circles and gradually make them wider. Repeat five times.
- Wall climbing (to the side) Stand sideways with your affected side facing the wall, arm extended. Stand close enough to the wall so you can just touch it (see illustration 2). Keeping your elbow straight, walk your fingers up the wall to where you feel a stretch. Hold that position for a count of 10. Let the arm return slowly to the starting position. Repeat 10 times, trying to exceed your previous mark each time.
- Wall climbing (to the front) Face the wall with your injured arm straight out in front of you. Finger walk up the wall to where you feel a stretch. Hold. Return the arm slowly to the starting position, and repeat 10 times.External rotation Begin with your arms crossed in front of you. Keeping your elbows at your sides, roll your arms out slowly as far as you can (see illustration 3). Hold the stretch for a count of five. Repeat five times.
Stretching and strenthening exercises
- Towel pull Stand erect with the back of the hand on the affected side held flat across your back. Use the other hand to throw one end of a towel over your good shoulder, and catch that end of the towel with the hand behind your back (see illustration 4). Pull down on the towel with your good arm, bringing the hand behind your back as high as you can without pain. Hold for five seconds, then relax. Repeat five times.
- Resistance exercise Stand up straight; hold a weight in each hand, With elbows straight, thumbs turned toward the floor, and arms about 30 degrees forward, slowly raise your arms to just below shoulder level (see illustration 5). Slowly lower your arms to their starting positions. Repeat five times.
- Lie on your side with injured shoulder up, holding a weight in your hand. Bend your arm, keeping the elbow close against your ribs (see illustration 6). Starting with the weight on the floor in front of you, slowly raise your forearm until it points to the ceiling. Then return slowly to the starting position. Repeat five times.