Common Ways to Alleviate Shoulder Pain and Strengthen Shoulders

Whether you’ve just overcome an injury, surgery or are prone to shoulder pain, one thing is certain: exercise can help strengthen your shoulders, alleviate pain and improve mobility.

Because the shoulder is a complex joint comprised of several muscles and tendons, it is susceptible to strain and injury. While some shoulder conditions require surgical treatment, many can be treated non-surgically with physical therapy or other exercises that focus on flexibility, stability and strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint.

Helen McDevitt is a Rebound orthopedic physical therapist who specializes in the shoulder and sports medicine. She works with patients to overcome shoulder problems and pain, and provides some tips and insight below.

“As physical therapists, we want to equip patients with knowledge of how the shoulder works and which activities can help or hurt the joint,” says McDevitt. “Strengthening your shoulders can help relieve pain, but it is also crucial for helping you prevent an injury.”

“One of the reasons the shoulder is so prone to injuries is that it is an inherently unstable joint due to the large humeral head, in comparison to the small socket, and that it is very dependent upon an appropriate balance of strength and flexibility to ensure good shoulder health,” says McDevitt.

At Rebound, we suggest visiting with a physician or physical therapist to examine the severity of shoulder injury before implementing an exercise program.

  • Start with a warm-up activity. The goal is to slowly warm and prepare your body for exercise (typically through an aerobic activity).
  • Stretch! Some stretches the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and Rebound physical therapists recommend are shown here. Stretching helps with your range of motion and injury prevention.

Common Strengthening Exercises:

  • Internal & external rotations with resistance bands
    • Internal – Attach a resistance/therapy band to a doorknob or waist-level fixed surface. With your elbow pressed to your side and forearm extended straightforward, pull the band across your core toward your opposite arm. Use resistance and control as you slowly return your arm to its original position.
    • External – Pull the resistance band slowly outward, rotating your arm away from your core. Slowly return your arm to its original position.
  • Side-lying internal & external rotations
    • Lying on your right side with your right arm tucked under your head (pressed against your ear), hold a lightweight dumbbell in your left hand. Place your left arm in a 90-degree angle with the dumbbell resting on the floor/stable surface (elbow aligned with your hip). Slowly lift your arm in a vertical direction, maintaining a 90-degree angle with your pressed to your side. Use resistance and control as you lower the weight back to your starting position. Repeat on your left side.
  • Periscapular strengthening exercises
    • Rowssit with your legs extended in front of you, placing your feet inside of a resistance band. Leaning forward toward your feet and ankles, grab the end of the resistance band with both hands. Exhaling, slowly lean back into an upright position, pulling the band to your hip. As you pull the band to your waist, you should focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together. Inhale and slowly extend your hands (holding the band) back toward your feet and ankles. Repeat, pulling the band to the other hip.

The list above is just a sampling of several exercises that are considered conducive to strengthening the shoulder. To see an extensive list of shoulder exercises recommended by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons click here, or contact us to make an appointment with a Rebound physical therapist. 

Rebound Shoulder Resources:

Rebound Shoulder Team & Services

Tendinitis, Impingement and Bursitis: Common Sources of Shoulder Pain

Shoulder Instability Causes and Treatments


Trusted Resources:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) – Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program

U.S. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health – Rotator Cuff Exercises