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Exercises to Relieve Shoulder Pain

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If you've ever experienced shoulder pain, you know how much it can disrupt your life. Our shoulder joints are in constant use, which makes pain and discomfort a persistent problem when driving, working, or even simply laying down. This is why it's so important to get the right treatment for an injured shoulder and to take steps to alleviate the pain.

At JAG Physical Therapy, the members of our compassionate PT team utilize all their expertise to help patients heal from shoulder complaints. Whether the pain is caused by damage to the soft tissue around the joint or simply by misalignment or poor posture, our trusted therapists can help you. Contact us today to learn more, schedule an appointment at your local JAG PT clinic in NJ, NY, or PA, or read on for our guide to shoulder pain exercises.

What Are the Common Causes of Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain can be due to an incident or injury that caused acute trauma, but it can just as likely be idiopathic, with no obvious cause, or due to wear and tear over time. Here are some of the most usual sources of shoulder pain:

Muscle Imbalance

The muscles generally work in pairs — one muscle contracts while the other muscle in the pair expands. When you move your arms forward, your pectoral muscle contracts while the deltoid at the rear of your shoulder expands, and vice versa when you move your arms backward. If one muscle does more work than the other, this can result in pain within the shoulder joint.

Rotator Cuff Damage

The shoulder is one of the body’s most complex joints, being a ball-and-socket type that can move in many directions. It's the rotator cuff that keeps the shoulder in place — this is a collection of tendons and muscles, such as the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis, among other soft tissues. Given the importance of the shoulders to everyday tasks, the rotator cuff can be injured in many ways, such as while playing sports or in a fall.


Tendons are tough pieces of soft tissue that connect muscles to bones within the musculoskeletal system. The tendons of the shoulder can become inflamed due to physical trauma or other medical events, causing shoulder tendinitis and resulting in stiffness and pain.

Shoulder Joint Instability

Shoulder joint instability occurs when the bones of the shoulder move out of their normal alignment. This misalignment may result in friction and pain when the shoulder is rotated. In more extreme cases, the instability can cause a full dislocation of the joint, which requires prompt professional treatment.

Which Exercises Can Help Relieve Shoulder Pain and Improve Mobility?

Shoulder pain shouldn't be ignored. Instead, gentle exercises can help to manage the pain and improve shoulder mobility. While these suggestions are a good place to start, you can get more effective recommendations by consulting with a physical therapist.

Range of Motion Exercises

Range of motion exercises can improve the flexibility of the shoulder joint, increasing the scope of mobility and preventing injury. These exercises may include:

  • Circle the shoulder joint to improve stable flexibility within the rotator cuff.
  • Stretch a resistance band between your two hands and perform a rowing motion, bringing one hand up while the other comes down.
  • Stretch a resistance band between your two hands and move the band up and over your head, then raising and lowering the band above the back of your head.
  • With the resistance band still behind your head, raise your right hand while lowering your left so the band forms a diagonal line, then reverse this movement by raising your left hand while lowering your right.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening the muscles and exercising the tendons and ligaments around the shoulder can increase strength and stability. While this decreases the risk of acute injury, it also works to prevent chronic conditions and general pain and discomfort. Strengthening exercises can include:

  • Stretch a resistance band between your two hands and extend the band so you feel the muscles engaging — this can be done with straight arms directly in front of you or above your head.
  • Complete a weighted shoulder press, using a barbell or gym weight and raising each hand from shoulder level to directly above your head until your arm is straight.
  • Complete a straight arm lift, holding the weight at waist level and then raising a straight arm until it is in line with your shoulder — either in front of you or laterally to your sides.
  • Hold the weights at waist level and scrunch your shoulders up against your neck, then release slowly.

Remember to take great care with any weighted exercises. Only use weights you feel comfortable lifting, make only slow and controlled movements, and cease the exercise immediately if you feel any pain.

Posture and Positioning Exercises

The mechanics of the shoulder joint itself can cause pain and discomfort. Posture and positioning exercises can help with this, including the following:

  • Raise your arms to form a 90-degree angle between your upper arm and your body, then push your arms backward until you feel a slight squeeze between your shoulder blades and hold this position for a few seconds.
  • Stand one pace from an open door, raising your arms 90 degrees from your body, then placing your forearms flat against either side of the doorframe. From here, move one foot forward and place it on the otherwise of the threshold, feeling a slight squeeze between your shoulder blades, and hold this for a few seconds.
  • Lay face down on a yoga mat and stretch your arms in front of you with your thumbs turned upward, then raise your arms in this position and hold for a few seconds. Do the same thing with your arms in a Y position, and then repeat a final time with your arms extended at right angles away from your body.

How Can Proper Shoulder Mechanics and Lifestyle Modifications Prevent and Manage Shoulder Pain?

We use our hands and arms all the time, which means we're constantly using our shoulders too. Whether you're lifting something heavy, reaching up to a shelf, or simply pointing to something in the distance, your shoulder joint is at work, and you need to bear this in mind. Even easy movements can cause problems over time if your posture, positioning, and shoulder mechanics are not right.

Here are a few tips to help you prevent this damage and manage pain and discomfort:

  • Carry out regular range of motion, strengthening, and posture exercises for at least a few minutes several times a week.
  • Listen to your body when you move — cracking and popping in the shoulder joint could be a sign of misalignment.
  • Be aware of the weights you are lifting — whether in your daily life or during exercise, never lift any weight that feels too heavy or unstable.
  • Be especially aware of awkward movements — lifting heavy items from a high shelf, for example, or lifting anything that is not directly in front of your body.
  • Remember to warm up properly before playing sports or doing any physical exercise.
  • If you are experiencing pain in your shoulder, consider what is triggering this pain and make appropriate lifestyle adjustments — never continue with exercises that are causing pain.

Relieve Your Shoulder Pain with JAG PT

JAG PT is committed to helping you find lasting relief from shoulder issues. We combine treatment modalities from manual therapy to the Graston technique as needed to tackle your pain, inflammation, and stiffness at the source. Take the first steps toward a healthy, pain-free shoulder joint by scheduling your appointment at your nearest JAG PT clinic or contacting us today.

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