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The Top 7 Shoulder Pain Physical Therapy Exercises You Need to Know

By Luke Greenwell, PT, DPT, CSMT, CSCS

A woman with a pain in her neck.

If you’re grappling with shoulder pain, you’re not alone. It’s a common problem from various causes, such as overuse, injury, or the natural aging process. Thankfully, physical therapy for shoulder injury and pain is an excellent solution, offering both relief and rehabilitation. With the right exercises, you can reduce pain, improve mobility, and get back to your daily activities quickly. Let’s explore these exercises to understand how they can help you regain your shoulder’s optimal function and ultimately enhance your quality of life.

Understanding Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain can be acute or chronic, presenting symptoms ranging from mild discomfort to debilitating pain. It’s essential to understand your shoulder pain to address it effectively. Consult with a medical professional to diagnose your condition accurately.

Benefits of Physical Therapy for Shoulder Pain

Why opt for physical therapy for your shoulder? The primary benefit is the ability to restore functional mobility and alleviate discomfort. In addition, studies have shown that it’s often the best physical therapy for shoulder conditions, as it can help you regain strength and flexibility without resorting to invasive procedures.

Preparing for Physical Therapy

Preparing for physical therapy involves understanding the process and setting realistic expectations. Every body is unique, and the efficacy and duration of therapy can vary. Stick to your physical therapy routine, and communicate openly with your therapist for the best results.

Before you begin, it’s beneficial to familiarize yourself with the basics of physical therapy for your shoulder. This could include understanding the typical exercises involved, the equipment you might need, and the physical therapist’s role in your journey. Consider doing light research or asking your healthcare provider what to expect. Knowledge can alleviate fear or anxiety and set the stage for a successful therapy experience. Preparation is the first step in your path toward recovery.

Shoulder Pain Physical Therapy Exercises

Embarking on shoulder pain physical therapy is a journey of recovery and resilience involving various exercises designed with precision. Each exercise targets specific aspects of shoulder recovery, addressing the root cause of pain and working towards regaining your shoulder’s optimal functionality.

These therapeutic exercises can be broadly categorized into seven types: Range of Motion exercises, Strengthening exercises, Stretching exercises, Stability exercises, Proprioception exercises, Functional exercises, and Pain Relief exercises. Each category plays a crucial role in your rehabilitation and forms the backbone of an effective physical therapy regimen, offering a holistic approach to shoulder recovery.

Range of Motion Exercises

These exercises are designed to restore normal shoulder movement. Pendulum swings and wall crawls are commonly recommended exercises. They’re excellent for gently increasing the range of motion and reducing stiffness in your shoulder.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening exercises, such as the resistance band pull and the lateral raise, can help rebuild your shoulder muscles, contributing to overall shoulder therapy. This exercise category is essential for long-term recovery and preventing future injuries.

Stretching Exercises

Shoulder stretching exercises, like the towel stretch or the cross-body reach, are effective at improving flexibility and lengthening tight muscles. They are integral to therapy and can significantly help reduce pain and improve function.

Stability Exercises

Stability exercises, such as the plank or the bird dog, help strengthen the muscles that support your shoulder joint. They are crucial for maintaining good posture and preventing future injuries.

Proprioception Exercises

Proprioception refers to your body’s ability to sense its position and movements in space. It’s a vital aspect of coordination and balance. Proprioception exercises, like the closed-eye arm reach, enhance your shoulder’s positional awareness, furthering the benefits of shoulder therapy. You’re equipping yourself with better movement control and response by training your body’s proprioceptive capabilities. This is especially valuable for athletes and individuals with an active lifestyle where precise, coordinated movements are crucial.

Functional Exercises

Functional exercises mimic everyday activities, making them an effective component of the best physical therapy for shoulder conditions. These could include reaching for an item on a high shelf or pushing a door open. These exercises are designed to restore physical function and enhance your quality of life by making daily activities easier to perform.

Pain Relief Exercises

Pain relief exercises like guided relaxation and deep breathing can help manage pain levels, especially during flare-ups. These are useful for promoting relaxation and reducing the perception of pain.

Summary and Key Takeaways

Shoulder pain can significantly impact your quality of life. However, it’s comforting to know that physical therapy can offer a pathway to recovery. It provides various exercises to improve range of motion, strength, flexibility, stability, and pain management.

From range-of-motion exercises to pain relief techniques, the different categories of exercises in shoulder physical therapy cover all aspects of recovery. The key is to approach each exercise with patience and consistency, as it’s the regular practice that truly fosters improvement. Moreover, while doing these exercises, staying in tune with your body and communicating any discomfort or difficulty to your physical therapist is essential. The goal is to relieve pain, prevent future injuries, and enhance your shoulder’s overall function. With the right mindset and commitment, you can conquer shoulder pain and reclaim your active life.

A Shoulder to Lean On: The Final Word

Investing in a physical therapy program for your shoulder could be your ticket to regaining strength and function. Whether battling a chronic condition or rebounding from an injury, these tailored exercises are your allies in the quest for recovery. Consistency in performing these exercises is key, and it’s best to do them under the guidance of a licensed physical therapist.

Don’t hesitate to seek support because your health matters. Remember – your shoulders carry your world, and it’s about time you cared for them. For more resources and information about shoulder therapy, visit the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.


Three men in orange shirts standing in front of an orange wall.


Dr. Luke GreenwellDr. David Bokermann and Dr. Sarah Greenwell are Performance Based Physical Therapists with extensive backgrounds in optimizing movement, performance, & recovery.


We help Athletes and Active Adults Recover from Pain and Injury, Rebuild Functional Movement Patterns, and Redefine their Future Performance,  for a Return to the Sports and Activities they Love

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