Patient Resources

Shoulder Exercies

This page is intended to provide some basic rehabilitation exercises for patients suffering from shoulder related problems, such as rotator cuff injuries, frozen shoulder, bursitis or tendinitis of the shoulder, or for those recovering from shoulder surgery and needing a simple rehab plan. They are not “body-building routines” or routines designed for athletes; rather, they are meant for the average person who wants to improve the function of their shoulders.

As with the other exercises on this website, always consult your physical therapist before beginning any exercise routine, to ensure that they are appropriate for your particular situation. If they cause pain or worsening of your symptoms, stop and seek professional advice.

Shoulder Rehab Routine

1. Hanging circumduction

This is a good beginners exercise, specifically for those with a great deal of shoulder weakness, or those who have just had surgery of the shoulder.

Begin by holding a light weight, such as a can of beans, while bending over and allowing your arm to just hang freely. Then, sway your body in a gentle circle (as shown in red), so that the weighted arm starts to move in a circle also (shown in blue). Be careful to allow the arm to “hang” at all times, and do not use the arm to move in circles. Perform the exercise for 1 minute, then rotate the other way around.

2. Wall Crawl

This is another good beginners exercise, and is well suited to people with Frozen Shoulder, or in those who find lifting the arm to be generally weak or painful.

  1. Begin by facing a wall, placing the fingers of one hand on the wall at around mid-chest height. Don’t stand too far back.

2. Slowly crawl your fingers up the wall, while you begin to turn away from the wall. Pause if it becomes painful or difficult.

3. Finish when you either cannot go any higher with your hand, or when you have turned out parallel to the wall with your body. Then slowly crawl your way back down the wall, while simultaneously turning back inwards to face the wall.

Remember to go slowly and pause if you get uncomfortable. Use the wall for support.

3. Wall Press

This is another easy beginners exercise.

Face the wall, with your feet one step back from it. Place your hands in a “push up” position, and lean a little of your weight towards the wall

Allow your chest to touch the wall, then slowly push away with your hands, till you are upright again. Repeat 10 times. To increase the challenge, step further back, which will increase the load on your arms.

4. Circumductions

Another important beginners exercise

Standing with your arm raised out to the side, start slowly drawing small circles, then slowly increasing their size till you reach as large a circle as you can make without pain. Make sure the circles are as accurate as you can make them, and don’t cheat by using your body to help raise the arm.  Then slowly decreases them again till you reach the starting position. It should take half a minute to go one way, then another half a minute to go back the other. Repeat 3 times.

If you are in discomfort, or find the arm too heavy, try the same exercise, but with the elbow rather than the whole arm extended.

5. Upper-cuts

beginner level exercise.

  1. Make a fist with one hand, beding your arm at the elbow, but keeping it by your side.

2. Keeping your body by your side, slowly punch upward with your fist.

3. Punch upwards as high as you can, passing the fist behind your shoulder. Hold the furtherst point for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times.

For more challenge, try holding a weight in your hand as you slowly lift, or alternately, hold one end of a strip of elastic, while stepping on the other end. The elastic will provide additional resistance.

6. Back – Hands

beginner level exercise.

  1. With your arm firmly by your side, cross your forearm flat over your belly.

2. Slowly rotate your fist away from your belly as far out as it will go, making sure to keep your upper arm tightly against your side.

This exercise can be modified by tieing one end of an elastic to a door knob, while holding the other in the clenched fist. The tension of the elastic can be used  to create resistance to the motion of your arm.

7. Chicken Wings

beginner – intermediate exercise. 
  1. Place your closed fist on the crest of your waist.


2. Then grab your elbow with your opposite hand and pull it towards the front as far as it will go. You should feel a stretch at the rear of your shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds, then release. Repeat several times. You should be able to get your elbow in front of your chest (eventually!)


Be careful NOT to allow your fist to creep out over your belly, as it will be too easy to perform the stretch in this position. 


Be careful NOT to allow your fist to creep out over your belly, as it will be too easy to perform the stretch in this position. 


Also, do NOT allow your shoulder to shift forward. Keep it back and up while you perform the stretch.

If you are very restricted in these movements, and can’t even reach your elbow with your hand, try putting both fists on your waist and flap your elbows forward and back gently, all the while trying to increase the stretch as you “flap” your wings. Try to keep the action even with both arms.

8. Cross-Chest stretch

An intermediate level stretch.


Place one arm across your chest, then squeeze it toward your chest further using your other arm.


You can increase the intensity of the stretch by squeezing and additionally lifting the arm upwards toward your chin. Hold for 20 seconds then relax. Repeat 3 times.

9. Rear thrusts

An intermediate level exercise.

  1. Begin by placing the hands together behind your back, palms facing back.

2. Then, thrust your hands slowly back and down, feeling a squeeze in your arm muscles, and a stretch in the top of your shoulder. Hold for 20 seconds then relax. Repeat 3 times

You can increase the intensity of the exercise, by leaning forward slightly, then lifting the arms upwards as well, which will shift the stretch more into the front of the shoulder.

10. Pec Stretches

An intermediate level stretch.

Begin by standing beside a door frame.

  1. Place the forearm and hand of one side along the door frame, with the elbow below shoulder height.
  2. Slowly turn away, and feel a stretch in your pectoral muscles as you do so. Hold for 20 seconds, then relax.
  3. Perform the same stretch again, but this time slide your arm up till the elbow is at shoulder height.
  4. Finally, perform the stretch again, but this time with the forearm above shoulder height.

11. Doorway lean

An intermediate level stretch.

Stand in a doorway, and try to hang onto the top of the door frame with both hands.

Then lean into the doorway, being careful not to let go and fall over. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times.

12. Triceps Stretch

An intermediate level exercise.

Raise one arm up vertically, then drop your forearm down onto the back of your neck. Grab the elbow with your opposite hand and pull it across. Hold the maximum stretch for 20 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times.

13. Rear monkey grip

This is an intermediate – advanced stretch.

The aim of this exercise is to be able to grab your hands from behind.

Begin by using a towel, until your flexibility improves.

Slowly use the towel to crawl your hands toward each other, as far as you can go. The hold for 20 seconds and relax. Repeat with the hands in the opposite position.

14. Door Frame Shoulder Blade stretch

An intermediate – advanced stretch.

  1. Begin by placing one arm across your chest. That will be the shoulder that will experience the stretch. Move side -on to a door frame, so that you grab it with the crossed-over arm.

2. Start to shift your bodyweight onto the far leg side, while hanging on tightly with your fingers. Do NOTpull with your arm, as it is supposed to be relaxed (except for the fingers, which are gripping tightly).Tuck in a little with your mid back as you lean back.

3. Finish the stretch by turning away slightly with your body, which will allow you to tuck in a little more.  You should feel a stretch between your shoulder blade and your spine.

You will need to play with the tucking in and turning out, till you find the point of maximum stretch. Hold it for 20 seconds, then relax. Repeat 3 times.

15. Side Lifts

This is an intermediate to advanced exercise.

Holding a weight in one hand (such as a can of beans for beginners), the aim is to slowly elevate the arm as high as it will go, with out cheating, by bending your body. Keep your elbows straight and your neck relaxed

Hold the maximum height you can for 20 seconds, then relax, by slowly returning the arm by your side.. Repeat 3 times. Eventually challenge yourself by increasing the weight you use

16. Trapezius Stretch

An intermediate – advanced stretch.


Sit in a chair, and with one arm, grab the front leg of the chair to anchor the shoulder down. Grab the side of your head with the other hand.


Slowly use one arm to side bend the head and lean the body the same way, while the other hand grips the leg of the chair firmly to keep the shoulder pinned down. You should feel a stretch in the top of the shoulder, the shoulder joint, and in your neck as well. Hold for 20 seconds then relax. Repeat 3 times.

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