Do you experience limited shoulder movement? A rather common occurrence, limited range of mobility in the shoulder can make daily chores laborious and difficult. Whether the motion involves internal rotation or simply lifting our arm with the elbow bent, the simplest of tasks can become frustrating without our shoulders’ full range of motion.
If you experience limited mobility in this all-important joint, you can add certain exercises to your daily schedule to increase muscle strength and range of motion. Continue reading to learn how to properly complete shoulder range of motion exercises within the comfort of your home!
What Causes Limited Mobility in the Shoulders?
Mobility is the ability of the joint to extend through its full range of motion. Several causes lie behind decreased shoulder mobility, such as tightness within the shoulder due to a previous injury or lack of muscle strength. Some more common causes of shoulder mobility limitations include:
- Rotator cuff tears
- Frozen shoulder joint
- Overuse of the shoulder joint
- Inactivity of the shoulder joint
For a clear diagnosis of your limited shoulder mobility, you should contact your physical therapist and schedule a shoulder special test on your range of motion. A normal range of shoulder motion is attainable with proper care and diligent exercise!
Shoulder Range of Motion Exercises
Your shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body! When in proper working order, most joints like your shoulder can provide an incredibly active range of motion, performing shoulder flexion, external rotation, and internal rotation pain-free. However, this healthy range of motion is susceptible to shoulder pain conditions and limited mobility when overused or underused.
There are a few shoulder range of motion or shoulder ROM (i.e., range of motion) exercises for joint health and healing. Your physical therapist may also recommend certain exercise programs to help you restore your normal range of shoulder motion and decrease any active pain within the area. Use the following exercises with care during your daily living routine in addition to physical therapy to activate your full range of motion:
#1: Active Shoulder Abduction
Active shoulder abduction is the best exercise to begin your journey toward a normal range of shoulder motion. This exercise is less strenuous as it is performed while lying on one side with your troublesome shoulder on top.
- Once you are lying comfortably with the upper arm elbow straight and your thumb pointed towards the ceiling, slowly lift your arm from your hip and into the air towards the ceiling until it reaches its abduction range. Keep your arm straight and in line with your body and your thumb pointed toward the ceiling.
- Once in this position, move your shoulder through its pain-free shoulder ROM before slowly lowering your arm to its resting position on your hip.
- Repeat the exercise 8 to 12 times and progress to the next exercise.
- If you feel any worsening pain in your shoulder or arm at any point in your exercise routine, stop immediately and contact your healthcare provider before continuing any similar stretching exercises.
#2: Active Horizontal Abduction
The next exercise is similar to the first and is called a horizontal abduction.
To start this exercise:
- Lie on your side with your target shoulder on top.
- Keep your arm straight and your shoulder flexed so that your arm is out in front of you and parallel to the floor.
- Slowly lift your arm until it is pointing towards the ceiling in an active external rotation and hold the position for one to two seconds before you slowly bring your arm to its starting position.
- With your elbow straight, move through a pain-free shoulder ROM and repeat the lateral rotation 8 to 12 times.
#3: Active Shoulder External Rotation
An active shoulder external rotation is an easy and effective exercise to increase your active range mobility, improving your shoulder range of motion.
- Unlike our previous exercises, begin by lying flat on your back. It is easier to complete the exercise if your knees are comfortably bent toward the ceiling with your feet lying flat on the ground.
- Keep the elbow of your target shoulder against your side with the elbow bent 90 degrees.
- With a cane or long stick in your opposite hand, push the stick against the hand of your affected arm so it experiences an external rotation.
- Hold the position for 10 seconds before relaxing and repeating the external rotation exercise 8 to 12 times.
#4: Side-Lying Shoulder External Rotation
Try side-lying shoulder external rotation to exercise and improve the mobility of your rotator cuff muscles. This exercise improves rotator cuff strength and neuromuscular control of this muscle group when used after rotator cuff surgery or previous shoulder injuries. However, before performing the exercise, speak with your healthcare provider and physical therapist to ensure that this exercise is right for you.
- Begin the external rotation exercise by lying in the same initial positioning as our previous exercises, on your side with your bad shoulder resting on the outer end of your body. This time, keep your upper arm elbow bent at a 90-degree angle and tuck it into your side. Your elbow should stay tucked at your side during the exercise stretch while your hand should be resting comfortably in front of your navel.
- Slowly lift your arm upward so that your fingers face the ceiling and your shoulder is in a slight external rotation. Keep your elbow bent into your side as you lift into a lateral rotation.
- Hold it there for a few seconds before slowly letting your arm return to its neutral position near your navel. Repeat this motion 8 to 12 times.
#5: Shoulder Internal Rotation
The next exercise will help you strengthen your normal shoulder range of motion through internal or medial rotation.
- Shoulder internal rotation exercises are performed while lying on your side, but your target shoulder should be on the bottom of your body, and your unaffected arm should lie on top. For comfort, you may want to move your arm forward an inch or two, so you are not lying directly on your arm or elbow.
- While keeping your elbow bent to 90 degrees and your palm facing up, slowly rotate your shoulder with your hand moving upward and your palm facing toward your navel in an internal rotation. This shoulder ROM should be pain-free.
- Once your hand is up at your navel, hold the position for about two seconds before slowly lowering it to the starting position.
- As always, repeat this medial rotation exercise 8 to 12 times.
#6: Arm Swings
Standing arm swings are a more dynamic exercise that increases blood flow to the shoulder joint and involves moving your arms in a rotational motion. This exercise is a great addition to any warm-up before upper arm and body exercises and can improve mobility and flexibility in your shoulders and upper back.
- Begin by standing tall with each arm straight by your sides.
- Engage your core and slowly rotate or swing your arms forward until they reach their abduction range without triggering shoulder pain. Raising your arms upward allows your joint to stretch into a comfortable shoulder flexion and normal ROM.
- Do not raise your shoulders during this exercise. Return your arms to their starting position and repeat the motion for 30 to 60 seconds.
#7: Shoulder Pass-Through
Try using the shoulder pass-through exercise to increase joint mobility and obtain a normal shoulder range while engaging the surrounding shoulder muscles such as the teres minor. This exercise requires holding a long, easily gripped stick such as a broomstick or PVC pipe.
- Start this exercise in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms in front of your body.
- Hold the stick with an overhand grip with your palms facing downward, and keep your arms a little wider than shoulder-width.
- Make sure the stick remains parallel to the floor as you engage your core to slowly raise the stick above your head, exercising your teres minor.
- Keep your arms straight and lift them to the highest point you are comfortable with.
- Hold the pose for a few seconds and then return to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise 5 times.
#8: Reverse Fly
The reverse fly is a little more complicated exercise that targets the upper back and thoracic muscles, providing stability for the shoulder joint. You will need a light set of dumbbells to conduct this exercise.
- Hold one dumbbell in each hand and position your feet shoulder-width apart to begin the exercise.
- Slightly bend your knees and engage your core to lean forward at the waist. Keep your back straight and your arms extended with each elbow bent slightly.
- With your palms facing the ground, carefully raise your arms away from your body by focussing on squeezing your shoulder blades together.
- Stop and slowly return to the starting position when you reach shoulder height or the highest point you can painlessly attain with your shoulder blades.
- Complete 3 sets of 10 repetitions and do not continue if you experience shoulder pain.
#9: Dumbbell Rotation
As the name implies, the dumbbell rotation requires a light dumbbell. You can use this exercise to warm up your shoulder before overhead and throwing motions with a normal shoulder range.
- Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Hold the dumbbell and raise your arm until your elbow is shoulder height.
- Keep the proper position with your palm facing the ground and your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Slowly rotate your shoulder to raise your upper arm and weight to its highest point toward the ceiling.
- Slowly return to the starting position and repeat 2 to 3 sets of 12 repetitions before changing sides.
#10: High-to-Low Rows
High-to-low rows strengthen the upper back and thoracic muscles through a resistance band or cable machine.
- Secure a resistance band to a sturdy object above shoulder height.
- Kneel down on one knee and grab the band with your opposite hand. You can either rest your other arm at your side or on your hip.
- As you slowly pull the band towards your body, keep your torso and arm straight. It is easiest to focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together while completing the motion.
- Return to the starting position and repeat 10 times for 2-3 sets on each side.
If you keep up with these exercises and other recommendations from your physical therapist, you should be able to attain your normal range of motion within no time!
Dr. Doerr is the Best Chiropractor in New Jersey for Treating Shoulder Mobility Issues!
At Bergen Chiropractic and Sports Rehabilitation Center, our chiropractic team, under the leadership of Dr. Gregory Doerr, adheres to the highest and most professional medical standards to provide superior chiropractic help for post-concussion syndrome patients. Our mission is to provide unparalleled patient care in a comfortable, healing atmosphere.
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- Brett Sears, PT. “4 Exercises to Improve Shoulder Range of Motion.” Verywell Health, Verywell Health, 15 May 2022, www.verywellhealth.com/shoulder-active-range-of-motion-exercises-2696619. Accessed 3 Aug. 2022.
- Lindberg, Sara. “Shoulder Mobility Exercises and Stretches with Pictures.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 10 Jan. 2020, www.healthline.com/health/shoulder-mobility-exercises#exercises. Accessed 3 Aug. 2022.