What is Shoulder Physical Therapy?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 January 2020
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Shoulder physical therapy is an important aspect of recovery from a shoulder injury or a chronic condition like arthritis. Therapy exercises may take place at home, in a hospital, or at a specialized rehabilitation clinic with the help of a trained physical therapist. Depending on the type and severity of the problem, shoulder physical therapy may involve stretching, flexibility exercises, and strength-building activities. In order to prevent further injury, it is essential to speak with doctor or physical therapist before trying to engage in any type of exercise.

Many people who suffer minor shoulder injuries can engage in physical therapy exercises at home to help them rebuild strength and improve their range of motion. Doctors usually recommend that the shoulder be rested for the first few days after an injury so that the joint has time to begin healing. A hurt shoulder typically feels stiff because of swelling and tightened tendons and ligaments, and needs to be properly stretched before engaging in physical activity.

Pendulum swing exercises are popular stretching techniques to begin conditioning an injured shoulder. An individual sits or stands with the arm hanging freely to the side. The arm is then moved very slightly forward and relaxed again, allowing it to swing backward and come to rest in its original place. The pendulum motion can be repeated several times to help stretch out the shoulder muscles and tendons, which improves flexibility and prepares the joint for more strenuous exercises.


Once a person can comfortably perform pendulum swings, he or she can try lifting exercises. Simple maneuvers such as standing upright and repeatedly raising the arm to shoulder level can significantly improve strength and the range of motion. If possible, the arm can be lifted above the head and slowly lowered back into a resting position. Other shoulder physical therapy exercises involve lifting the arm outward as if flapping a wing, and making small concentric circles with the arm extended to the side.

An individual who experiences a rotator cuff tear, severe tendinitis, bursitis, or a broken scapula must usually undergo more intensive shoulder physical therapy. Following corrective surgeries, patients are often scheduled to attend regular therapy sessions at an outpatient rehabilitation center or a hospital. The physical therapist collaborates with both the doctor and the patient to design a custom method of shoulder physical therapy. Therapists and patients identify goals in rehabilitation and work together to restore mobility, flexibility, and strength.

Activities at a rehabilitation center may include resistance training and weightlifting. The therapist might first help the patient lift and rotate his or her shoulder to begin regaining flexibility. Rubber bands, water tubs, and other training devices are commonly used to provide resistance to movement, which helps build strength. After the patient has had several sessions and can move the shoulder with minimal pain, the therapist may initiate a weightlifting regimen to conclude rehabilitation therapy.



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