Shoulder exercises are an important part of shoulder rehabilitation and injury prevention. The best shoulder exercises for you will depend on your specific aims. For rehab exercises for specific injuries including frozen shoulder exercises, rotator cuff exercises for rotator cuff injury or shoulder stretching exercises to increase mobility see the specific injury rehab pages.
Shoulder rehabilitation exercises
For general shoulder rehabilitation (shoulder pain exercises) we have organized the exercises below based on stage of rehabilitation.
Early stage are the best shoulder exercises to do as soon as pain will allow after injury. If an exercise hurts then do not do it.
Mid stage exercises can be progressed to once the early stage exercises are comfortable.
Late stage exercises are more advanced in preparation for return to full fitness and can be maintained even after the injury has healed to help prevent re-injury.
The shoulder is different to many joints in that it has a such a large range of movement in many different directions. This makes it prone to injury and unstable.
Any shoulder rehab program should focus on regaining full range of motion and strength, as well as proprioception or co-ordination of the joint. The shoulder girdle (shoulder blades, collar bone) is also important was well as the ball and socket shoulder joint itself. If the co-ordination of the joint is neglected then the way the shoulder blade and upper arm bones move together could be altered resulting in future injuries such as shoulder impingement syndrome.
The shoulder joint is also affected by posture. Poor posture where the shoulders are rounded and protracted (forwards) can result in overuse injuries like rotator cuff tendinopathy, as well as upper back and neck pain.
Shoulder rehab programmes should begin with mobility and stretching exercises. This can begin as soon as the movements are pain-free. Attention should also be paid to correcting causes of injury, such as poor posture.
The next step is to begin muscle strengthening. This can begin relatively early, with isometric (static) contractions. These are usually progressed with small dumbbell or resistance band exercises. Rotator cuff exercises and Proprioceptive exercises can also begin at this stage.
The final stage is the late stage rehab and functional exercises which are very different for each individual, depending on what sports or activities they are involved in. They should aim to slowly introduce the movements and forces used in their sport.
Rotator cuff exercises
The rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder are the muscles which rotate the arm inwards and outwards. They are an important part of all shoulder rehab programs, not just that for a rotator cuff injury. See rotator cuff exercises for more details.