13 Physical Therapy Exercises For Shoulder Pain & Rehab (Printable PDF) (2024)

You might not realize it, but you use your shoulders daily to lift, reach, pull, push, carry, and press. Almost everyone will experience some form of painful shoulder and soreness during their lifetime – even if you don’t play sports.

Sadly, in some cases, it can become a chronic problem. Chronic pain makes everyday activities such as picking up a child or pet, carrying groceries, reaching for something, combing your hair, or getting dressed become difficult. If you experience a prevalence of shoulder pain for more than a few days, consider scheduling an appointment with a healthcare professional.

If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, feel free to tackle this list of shoulder pain rehab exercises:

To help my patients (and myself), I put together a list of my favorite shoulder stretches and exercises. You can download a PDF here.

Shoulder Pain Exercises hide

1 Arm-Across-Chest Stretch

2 Neck Stretches

3 Shoulder Roll

5 Internal Band Rotation

6 Lateral Raises

7 Standing Upright Rows

8 External Torso Rotation

9 Internal Torso Rotation

10 Shoulder I-Y-T’s

11 Shoulder Y and Ts

12 Shoulder U’s

13 Rhomboid Rows

Using Physical Therapy For Shoulder Pain Relief

Often your first step towards gaining shoulder pain relief is to understand your body and push yourself to do motion exercises. Your shoulder is not just a simple joint, but rather a ball and socket joint, held together by muscles, tendons, and ligaments. All parts of the shoulder work together to achieve rotation and stability, so you can perform daily activities with ease.

13 Physical Therapy Exercises For Shoulder Pain & Rehab (Printable PDF) (1)

You can experience discomfort or severe pain if just one component suffers injury. In some cases, the pain in your shoulder occurs because of some other region of the body that works with the shoulder. If you have mild shoulder tendonitis, physical therapy exercises are a fantastic treatment.

Treatment for shoulder pain can include some shoulder exercises that are complex and best performed with the help of a physical therapist, especially after sustaining shoulder injuries. However, others are easy at-home workouts that might relieve the pain and prevent future bouts of discomfort. Treating shoulder pain often takes time but learning how to get rid of shoulder pain through exercise therapy is very simple.

Shoulder Warm-Up Exercises

Here is a list of warmups that will help loosen your shoulder blade muscles and joints prior to exercising. It is imperative that you undergo a thorough warm-up to get your blood flowing and help with pain reduction.

Arm-Across-Chest Stretch

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You want to warm up the muscles and joints so using the Arm-Across-Chest stretch is a great way to loosen up your upper arm. While performing the exercise be sure to lower your shoulders if you experience pain.

  1. Let your right arm hang near your waist.
  2. Use your left hand to grab your right elbow and pull the right arm across your chest towards your left arm. Ideally, you should be able to pull your arms across your chest and never experience discomfort.
  3. Hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds and feel a stretch in your shoulder and upper arm.
  4. Repeat with your other arm. Do both sides three to five times.

Neck Stretches

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The neck often plays a role in shoulder pain so simple neck stretches are ideal. This exercise can also be used as a warmup.

  1. Stand with your feet positioned hip-width apart.
  2. Allow your arms to hang loose at your sides.
  3. Look straight ahead
  4. Tip your head to the right and try to touch your ear to your shoulder.
  5. You will feel the stretch that pulls along your left shoulder and neck.
  6. Hold for 10 seconds
  7. Repeat the exercise on the back shoulder.
  8. Perform three reps for each side.

Other Resources:

8 Thoracic Outlet Syndrome Exercises for Pain Relief

Simple Shoulder Pain Exercises

Following you will find a wide range of exercises that research has shown will help with shoulder pain Each one is easy to perform so you won’t have to jump through any hoops to start the steps. Give this shoulder pain workout routine a try!

Shoulder Roll

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Another basic exercise that helps loosen you up is the shoulder roll. Many perform this as a warmup for the shoulder blades. It is easy to implement. Doing these shoulder motions will help with circular motion.

  1. Stand with your back straight and your feet apart.
  2. Dangle your arms at your sides
  3. Take a deep breath and lift your shoulders up to slowly rotate.
  4. Move your shoulders back while lifted so that you squeeze your shoulder blade muscles together.
  5. Exhale and lower your shoulders.
  6. Move your shoulders forward and you will feel a stretch along the backside of your shoulder blades.
  7. Repeat 10 times

External Band Rotation

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External Band Rotations is a good shoulder strengthening exercise using external rotation. You’ll need a resistance or exercise band to perform the exercise.

  1. Attach a resistance band to an object at elbow level
  2. Grab the exercise band with your hand using an overhand grip. Stand tall and bring your elbow up so that the upper part of your arm is in line with your shoulder.
  3. Keep your arm bent at 90 degrees. Your forearm should be running parallel to the ground.
  4. Externally rotate your hand and forearm away from your body keeping your elbow at your side.
  5. Reverse the movement back to the starting position. Your shoulder joint benefits from this exercise.
  6. Perform five to 10 reps.

Internal Band Rotation

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The Internal Band Rotation is a common internal rotation exercise performed by sports physical therapists for individuals with shoulder problems. You can also perform it at home. This exercise might be difficult if you have an injured arm but if you push yourself then it will start to become easier each time.

  1. Use a door to anchor the elastic band at waist height.
  2. Hold the handle in with your left hand.
  3. Stand three to four feet back from the door.
  4. Hold your head straight and keep your abdominal muscles tight.
  5. Point your active arm so it is parallel with the floor and pointed away from your torso at a 45-degree angle.
  6. Internally rotate your arm against the elastic band.
  7. Touch your torso with your hand.
  8. Return your hand to its original starting position.
  9. Perform 5 reps on each arm.

Lateral Raises

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You’ll require a pair of dumbbells to perform Lateral Raises. This is a popular exercise used to build shoulder muscles. Ideally, you should use very light weights, especially if you have a shoulder injury.

  1. Hold a dumbbell in each hand while standing
  2. Keep your back perfectly straight and brace your abdominal muscles.
  3. With controlled movement, slowly raise the dumbbells out to the side so that your arms are parallel to the floor. Your elbow should be slightly bent.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Perform 10 to 12 reps.

Standing Upright Rows

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Standing rows are frequently performed by strength trainers for shoulder exercises. However, it is also an excellent exercise for pain relief. You will need a barbell or substitute two hand weights for this exercise.

  1. Stand upright
  2. Grasp a barbell or weight using an overhand grip.
  3. Keep your feet hip-width apart.
  4. Pull your shoulders back while arching your lower back.
  5. Lift the barbell up so it is just under your chin
  6. Make sure your elbows are higher than your hands. If not, pull your elbow up.
  7. Lower the bar back and repeat
  8. Perform 10 reps

External Torso Rotation

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The External Torso Rotation is a classic twist type of exercise. You can perform it without excessive discomfort if you suffer from neck pain.

  1. Sit in a chair.
  2. Tighten your abdominal muscles.
  3. Exhale while rotating your torso to one side.
  4. Keep your hips facing forward.
  5. Rotate your torso, shoulders, and head as one.
  6. Pause and then return to your original forward-facing position.
  7. Alternate twisting sides.

Internal Torso Rotation

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With Internal Torso Rotation, you are going to use TRX grips to work deeper muscles in your torso and shoulder. There are also torso rotation machines in gyms or that a physical therapist might utilize as part of therapy. Anytime you use TRX, you want to make sure that each foot is stable.

  1. Holding onto the affixed TRX with both hands you will lean your body back with your legs spread slightly.
  2. Use your body’s inner torso to rotate to the side and then back to your original position. Your hands will be off to the side.
  3. Adjust the intensity by taking a single step forward or back.
  4. Perform 10 reps on each side.

Shoulder I-Y-T’s

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Shoulder I-Y-T’s refers to the positions of your body during the workout. You’ll be laying on the floor for this exercise, so a mat comes in handy.

  1. Lie on your stomach in a prone position.
  2. Extend your arms and legs. Your palms should be flat on the mat and your toes pointed.
  3. Stiffen your abdominal muscles
  4. Pull your shoulders back and down. You will attempt to hold this position throughout the exercise.
  5. Exhale and lift your arms off the floor. You must maintain the letter ‘I’ formation for 5 to 10 seconds. Perform two to four reps.
  6. Exhale and lift your arms off the floor to form a ‘Y’ position. Your palms will be inward.
  7. Use your shoulders to implement the Y lift of your arms. Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds.
  8. Perform two to four reps.
  9. Exhale and move your arms into a ‘T’ position. Again, use your shoulders to lift your arms. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds. Perform two to four reps.

Shoulder Y and Ts

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You will stand in an upright position and use dumbbells. Only use light dumbbells.

  1. Lean forward slightly.
  2. Bring your arms outward straightening your elbows and holding the dumbbells.
  3. Slowly lower your arms.
  4. Repeat five times
  5. Position your arms so that your palms are facing outward and your thumbs are pointing towards the ceiling.
  6. Lift with your elbows up to shoulder level.
  7. Slowly lower.
  8. Repeat five times.

Shoulder U’s

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The Reverse Shoulder Stretch is like making a U formation. The exercise is relatively easy and requires no equipment. This will help stretch your posterior deltoid, the muscle on the backs of your shoulders.

  1. Stand straight.
  2. Interlock your fingers behind your back at the top of your butt to form a U.
  3. Maintain a straight back with your shoulder blade muscles together.
  4. Keep your arm bone straight on each arm.
  5. Push your arms up away from your buttocks and low
  6. Hold for 30 seconds.
  7. Perform a rep of five.

Rhomboid Rows

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Your rhomboid muscles help you maintain your posture. A Rhomboid Row can be helpful to your shoulder joints and relieve shoulder pain. You will need a pair of dumbbells and an incline bench for this exercise.

  1. Hold a pair of dumbbells in each one of your hands.
  2. Stand so you are facing the seat of the incline bench.
  3. Straddle the seat and lean your upper body forward against the bench.
  4. Bend your knees so that your feet will slide backward.
  5. Flex both ankles and dig your toes into the floor to offer support. Your arms should be hanging down.
  6. Exhale and bend your elbows so that you are lifting the weights upward toward your rib cage.
  7. When you reach the top of the lift movement squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  8. Hold for three seconds and then lower the weights
  9. Perform 10 to 12 reps.

Shoulder Surgery and Rehab

If you suffer torn rotator cuff muscles, then you are probably going to require surgery. A rotator cuff inury is painful and requires rehab. Other shoulder conditions might also require surgery to rectify. Following, the procedure for a rotator cuff tendon injury, you will be assigned physical therapy at a trained facility and at-home shoulder stretches to help you overcome functional limitations.

Exercises are a great way to free up a frozen shoulder and relieve discomfort for people with shoulder pain. You might be tempted to turn to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications but stretching is often an effective way to cope with problems. Active rest and ice are also effective treatments at home.

It doesn’t matter if you are a weekend warrior, an active athlete, a stay-at-home mom, or you work behind a desk, no one wants to suffer shoulder discomfort. I hope that this list of shoulder therapy exercises will help you find relief.

Check out our full list of physical therapy exercises.

13 Physical Therapy Exercises For Shoulder Pain & Rehab (Printable PDF) (2024)


What are two warning signs of a rotator cuff tear? ›

Rotator cuff tear symptoms include:
  • Difficulty, pain and weakness caused by raising, lowering or rotating your arm.
  • Popping, clicking or crackling sounds or sensations when moving your arm in certain positions.
  • Shoulder pain that worsens at night or when resting your arm.
  • Shoulder weakness and struggling to lift items.

Can you heal a torn rotator cuff with exercise? ›

For many people, physical therapy (PT) is the answer. It may be all you need to treat an injured rotator cuff. PT is a way to get back strength and movement after an injury. It includes things like exercise, ice, heat, massage, and equipment to help return your shoulder back to its normal range of motion.

Can I do shoulder physical therapy at home? ›

Hold a stick behind your back with one hand, and lightly grasp the other end of the stick with your other hand. Pull the stick horizontally as shown so that your shoulder is passively stretched to the point of feeling a pull without pain. Hold for 30 seconds and then relax for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

What is the wand exercise for rotator cuff? ›

Wand exercise with external rotation

Lift your forearm on the injured side at a 90° angle and the other arm at a 45° angle. Move the stick upward by rotating the affected shoulder. Your injured arm should form a 90° angle laying flat on the mat. Hold the position for 5 seconds.

How long does it take for a torn rotator cuff to heal without surgery? ›

Assuming the tear is minor, with proper rest and recovery it could take four to six weeks to be fully recovered from that tear. If the tear is worse than that, or if not given proper treatment those tears may never heal on their own.

How can you tell the difference between shoulder tendonitis and rotator cuff tear? ›

What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear or tendonitis? Tendonitis pain and chronic rotator cuff tendon pain can be gradual and can worsen overtime with continued use of the shoulder joint. In contrast, an acute rotator cuff tear will typically present with sharp, immediate pain and weakness in the shoulder joint.

Should I stretch my rotator cuff if it hurts? ›

Doing specific exercises and stretches can help you build strength and enhance your range of motion after an injury to the rotator cuff, such as a tear or strain. These exercises can also assist in promoting healing and reducing the chances of any further complications.

What is the 7 minute rotator cuff solution? ›

The 7-Minute Rotator Cuff Solution is a quick, simple program to help prevent (or help you recover from) rotator cuff injuries. It details how the shoulder works, what can go wrong and why, and describes exactly what to do (and not do) to insure against the risk of shoulder problems developing in the first place.

What is the best position to relieve rotator cuff pain? ›

Sleep positions to adopt if you have rotator cuff pain

Sleeping on the side or stomach puts more strain on the shoulder joint, aggravating rotator cuff pain. The best sleeping position to prevent rotator cuff pain is on your back, with your arms resting comfortably at your sides.

What is the best painkiller for shoulder pain? ›

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can relieve shoulder pain by reducing inflammation in the shoulder joint. Ibuprofen and naproxen are two NSAIDs doctors commonly recommend. If over-the-counter NSAIDs don't relieve your pain, your doctor may prescribe a stronger dose for weeks or months.

What should you not do with shoulder pain? ›

What Should I Avoid Doing if I Have Shoulder Impingement?
  • Avoid Reaching, Lifting, Pulling, or Pushing. For about 4-6 weeks, avoid any movements with the affected shoulder that require exertion and effort. ...
  • Avoid Lying Flat on Your Back. ...
  • Avoid Driving.
May 7, 2021

How do I get my shoulder to stop hurting? ›

Rest. Don't use your shoulder in ways that cause or worsen pain. Ice. Put an ice pack to your painful shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes a few times each day.

Does hanging strengthen rotator cuff? ›

According to Dr. Kirsch, the hang is good for people with shoulder impingement and even rotator cuff injuries. Here's why: Apart from stretching the brachial arteries, the hang also stretches and strengthens the supraspinatus tendon.

How many times a day should you do rotator cuff exercises? ›

For each exercise, you should do 20 to 30 reps, 3 to 5 times a week. Keep your range of motion small at the beginning and increase it over time. If you choose to use weights, start small and increase a little each week.

What can be mistaken for rotator cuff? ›

However, there are some other shoulder conditions that show symptoms similar to rotator cuff tears.
  • Different shoulder conditions that show symptoms the same as rotator cuff tears.
  • Biceps tendinitis. ...
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome. ...
  • Frozen shoulder. ...
  • Labral tears. ...
  • Arthritis. ...
  • Bursitis. ...
  • Tendinitis.
Jun 11, 2023

How do you check yourself for a torn rotator cuff? ›

In this test you begin by placing the injured arm behind your back, with the back of your hand resting on you lower back. Now try to raise your arm off of your back.. If you feel pain or weakness when trying to lift your hand off of your back, that is a sign that there could possibly be rotator cuff injury involved.

How does a bad rotator cuff feel? ›

Over time, there may be pain at rest or at night, such as when lying on the affected shoulder. You may have weakness and loss of motion when raising the arm above your head. Your shoulder can feel stiff with lifting or movement. It may become more difficult to place the arm behind your back.

What is a red flag for a rotator cuff injury? ›

Key Takeaways. Persistent, worsening, or acute shoulder pain; weakness, immobility, and systemic symptoms like fever are red flags that necessitate urgent medical attention.

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