Pendulum Circle Shoulder Exercises Rehab

A Basic Shoulder Exercise to Build Range of Motion During Rehab

Doctor testing mobility of a patient`s shoulder. Credit: Jan-Otto

Pendulum circles are common shoulder exercises used early in physical therapy rehab for shoulder injuries. This simple exercise helps regain range of motion in the shoulder joint and the muscles that make up the rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that are often injured due to overuse and traumatic shoulder injuries, such as a fractured clavicle (collarbone). A torn rotator cuff is also common in sports that require overhead movements, such as throwing or reaching.

Because every injury is unique, it's important to work closely with your physician and physical therapist to design a rehabilitation program that includes exercises specific to your injury, fitness level and fitness goals. Rehab exercise programs are designed primarily to help the athlete regain full range of motion and full strength to return to sports safely and quickly.

How to Do Pendulum Circles

  1. Bend forward 90 degrees at the waist with your uninjured arm on a chair or table for support.
  2. Let your injured arm hang down toward the ground.
  3. Make small circles with the hand of your injured arm. Let momentum move your arm around effortlessly for 10 circles; make both clockwise and counterclockwise circles. Keep your movements smooth and controlled, not sloppy.
  4. As you progress in your rehab, you can hold a light hand weight (2 to 5 pounds) while doing the exercise.

More Shoulder Rehabilitation Information

  • Clavicle Fracture Rehab Exercise Program: The pendulum exercise is one of the standard daily exercises often recommended in rehab for a clavicle fracture (broken collarbone). This is a common sports injury that often happens in a fall by a cyclist or in other activities. Other exercises used are the grip strength exercise, isometric triceps exercises, rotator cuff exercises, isometric shoulder exercises. As rehab progresses, you may do wall crawls walking your fingers up the wall and build elbow range of motion. After a month, you may be able to progress to resistance exercises with bands or weights and shoulder range of motion exercises. After two months you will begin to build muscle strength and endurance. It is only after three to four months that you are likely to return to sport-specific training after being cleared by your doctor.
  • Rotator Cuff Surgery and Rehabilitation: Learn about what will happen after rotator cuff surgery. Your physical therapist will likely start with passive motion so as not to work the injured muscles and tendons. After six weeks you may progress to active motion without any resistance for another six weeks. The next recovery phase is strengthening with resistance bands and weights. Full activity may not be possible for four to six months after surgery.


The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Broken Collarbone, Patient Information, Shoulder Surgery Exercise Guide, 2007.

Millett PJ, et al. "Rehabilitation of the Rotator Cuff: An Evaluation-Based Approach" J. Am. Acad. Ortho. Surg., October 2006; 14: 599 - 609.

Continue Reading