Shoulder pain can impact every part of your life–how you pull on a shirt, pick up your children, or drive a car. Thankfully, if you’re suffering from pain, there are exercises for shoulder pain that can help. Even better, many of these can be done in just a few minutes a day from the comfort of home.
What is causing my shoulder pain?
Before we get started, it’s helpful to know what’s causing your shoulder pain. As we discussed earlier, some of the most common causes of shoulder pain include:
- Rotator cuff injuries and tears
- Arthritis or osteoarthritis
- Adhesive capsulitis, or frozen shoulder syndrome
- Shoulder dislocation
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
- Neck pain
- Spinal stenosis
- Tendon sheath inflammation
It’s so important to know what’s causing your pain. A patient who is suffering from arthritis, for instance, should seek out different exercises from someone who is healing after an injury or dislocation. Above all, knowing what’s causing your pain can help you find the most appropriate therapies. For some, exercises can actually exacerbate their pain. Because of this, it’s important that you always talk to your doctor before attempting these or any other shoulder pain exercises.
You can learn more about different shoulder pain causes here.
60+ of the best exercises for shoulder pain
Exercise is crucial for restoring your range of motion and easing your pain after an injury or painful period. It can be especially useful if you suffer from conditions like frozen shoulder syndrome or arthritis. We pulled together exercises for shoulder pain from across the web to create a handy list you can access at any time. These exercises come from some of the top voices in pain management and treatment. They contain routines for pain experienced near the shoulder blades, in your upper arms, and in your neck, among others. And they address a number of symptoms and conditions.
In every case, talk to a doctor before trying any of these stretches or exercises. While the majority of these give modifications for reducing intensity, it’s still important that you protect your shoulder from harm. If you’ve suffered from a recent injury or dislocation it’s even more important that you follow your doctor’s advice. In some cases, engaging in certain activities too quickly could mean discomfort for a longer period of time.
18 strengthening exercises for shoulder pain
To start, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) has put together a comprehensive list of stretches and exercises you can do for painful shoulders. They’ve also turned this into a printable PDF. The AAOS notes that:
“This shoulder conditioning program should be continued for 4 to 6 weeks, unless otherwise specified by your doctor or physical therapist. After your recovery, these exercises can be continued as a maintenance program for lifelong protection and health of your shoulders. Performing the exercises two to three days a week will maintain strength and range of motion in your shoulders.”
Their recommended exercises include:
- Crossover arm stretch
- Passive internal rotation
- Passive external rotation
- Sleeper stretch
- Standing row
- External rotation with arm abducted
- Internal rotation
- External rotation
- Elbow flexion
- Elbow extension
- Trapezius strengthening
- Scapula setting
- Scapular retraction/protraction
- Bent-over horizontal abduction (shown below)
- Internal and external rotation
- External rotation on floor
- Internal rotation on floor
5 more exercises for rotator cuff injuries
If you’re suffering from pain after a rotator cuff tear, it’s important to be selective about the exercises you choose. An injury could be caused by repetitive stresses you encounter in your every day life or they could be due to one isolated incident. No matter the cause, you don’t want to damage your rotator cuff even further. Because of this, always make sure to clear any exercises by your doctor first. Once you’ve done so, you can try one of these excellent shoulder exercises from HealthLine:
- Doorway stretch
- High-to-low rows
- Reverse fly
- Lawn mower pull
They provide more information about each exercise on their site, along with animated GIFs detailing the exercises.
5 simple at-home stretches for shoulder pain
For exercises that you can do at home without any weights or resistance bands, look to the list from Genesis Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. They discuss some of their favorite stretches you can easily do at home to reduce tension and stress in your shoulders. These include:
- Neck Release
- Chest Expansion
- Seated Twist
4 more stretches for arthritis shoulder pain
If you’re suffering from pain caused by arthritis, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy in the UK has put together a printable shoulder pain exercises PDF for managing your pain at home. You’ll find some similar poses from the list compiled by the AAOS, like the pendulum, but they also feature stretches like the Door Lean and Door Press that are geared towards passive stretching for arthritis patients.
6 exercises for frozen shoulder syndrome
The goal of any frozen shoulder syndrome program is to get the shoulder warmed and moving again. The UW School of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine created a routine based on using the non-painful arm to help with stretching. As they explain:
“Your opposite arm is a great therapist for your stiff shoulder. Your ‘therapist arm’ is always available to apply a gentle stretch in any direction of tightness. Each of these gentle stretches needs to be held up to a count of 100.”
They discuss six different exercises you can do to release tension. All can be done at home with simple props.
4 yoga exercises for shoulder and neck pain
If you love yoga, there are some poses that are great at reducing tension in your shoulder and neck. Our great yogi, Suzanne, demonstrates four easy poses you can do to reduce pain.
16 more simple stretches for tight shoulders
Greatist.com has put together a great resource for loosening up tight shoulders, like those that occur with a previous injury or frozen shoulder syndrome. They focus on postural alignments as well as chin and neck exercises. Since we often store stress in our shoulders and necks, it’s important to work out both of these areas during any routine.
Their exercises also include images and animated GIFs so you can perform them correctly. Some of their best ones include:
- Scapular setting
- Chin retractions
- Assisted and unassisted cow face pose
- Arm circles
20-minute shoulder strengthening video from HASfit
This routine is more advanced, but it’s a great starting point for patients to follow at home. It includes some of the same exercises included here, in a easy-to-do format that’s focused on progressive stretching. They focus on safety and include tips for reducing your intensity.
9 exercises for shoulder mobility and strengthening
GMB Fitness compiled a great resource on everything you need to know for shoulder strengthening and stretching. In it, they also show some strengthening exercises you can do to relieve pain. These range from some seated stretches and weighted exercises to foam rolling. What follows is their shoulder pain exercise video of three strengthening moves for shoulder pain.
How do you stop shoulder pain?
Stopping your shoulder pain often takes more than just exercises. Exercises are instrumental for restoring your muscles and reducing tension, however, for patients with chronic pain, they often need more help. Working with a physical therapist who can provide specific training recommendations is a great option for many patients with mild to moderate pain. You can also take these recommendations home to continue your training.
Some patients also find relief by visiting a chiropractor, especially if their pain originates due to tension in the neck. You can read about more of the benefits of chiropractic care here.
If these therapies don’t work, patients should visit a pain specialist for additional options. These may include shoulder joint injections or surgery in extreme cases. Combining therapies like physical therapy along with injections, however, can help many patients avoid more invasive surgeries.
To find a doctor in your area who specializes in pain medicine, click the button below. They’ll be able to provide a diagnosis and suggest treatments that could help you reduce pain and get back to your life.