Shoulder Active Range of Motion Exercises

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Shoulder Active Range of Motion Exercises

Shoulder abduction active range of motion.
Start sidelying shoulder abduction by lying on one side with your shoulder and arm resting on your hip. Brett Sears, PT, 2011

If you have shoulder pain, you may benefit from physical therapy to ease painful symptoms and improve your shoulder strength and range of motion (ROM) so that you can return to normal function.

Your physical therapist should work with you to perform shoulder special tests and to help determine the cause of your shoulder pain. A loss of ROM around your shoulder joint is a common finding in people with shoulder pain. Also, you may have decreased shoulder ROM if you have had shoulder surgery like a rotator cuff or labrum repair.

Your physical therapist will help to progress you through a safe and effective exercise program to help you restore normal ROM in your shoulder. The typical progression to restore normal, pain-free ROM to your shoulder begins first with passive ROM. Shoulder pulleys can be used to help regain passive ROM. Once passive ROM is restored, you may progress to performing active-assistive ROM exercises, and finally active ROM exercises like the ones in this program.

The exercises in this step-by-step guide are meant to help you restore active range of motion to your shoulder. You must first check with your doctor or physical therapist to ensure that theses exercises are safe and appropriate for you to perform. If any of these exercises cause pain, you should stop immediately and consult with your doctor.

To begin the shoulder active ROM exercises, lie on one side. The shoulder that you are exercising should be on top. Keep your elbow straight and your thumb pointing towards the ceiling.

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Shoulder Abduction Exercise in Sidelying

Shoulder abduction whil lying on your side.
Lie on one side and slowly lift your arm up towards the ceiling. Brett Sears, 2011

Once your arm is straight and resting on your hip, slowly lift your arm up into the air and towards the ceiling. Be sure to keep your arm in line with your body, and make sure your thumb remains pointing at the ceiling.

Move your shoulder fully through a pain-free ROM, and then slowly lower your arm back down to the starting position. Perform 8 to 12 repetitions of this exercise, and then progress to the next exercise.

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Active Horizontal Abduction Exercise

Shoulder horizontal abduction in sidelying.
Lie on one side with your elbow straight and your arm out in front of you, parallel to the floor. Brett Sears, 2011

The next shoulder active range of motion exercise is called horizontal abduction. Start this exercise by lying on your side with the shoulder to be exercised on the top.

Keep your elbow straight and flex your shoulder so that your arm is out in front of you and is parallel to the floor.

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Shoulder Horizontal Abduction Exercise

Keep your arm straight and lift it up towards the ceiling.
Slowly lift your straight arm up towards the ceiling. Brett Sears, PT, 2011

Slowly lift your arm up so that your hand is pointing towards the ceiling. Hold this position for one to two seconds, and then slowly lower to the starting position. Move through a pain free ROM.

This exercise should be performed for 8 to 12 repetitions. If you experience any pain with this exercise, stop immediately and consult your doctor or physical therapist.

After this exercise is complete, you can move to the next exercise: active shoulder external rotation.

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Sidelying Shoulder External Rotation Exercise

Shoulder sidelying external rotation.
Lie on one side with your elbow bent and tucked into your side. Brett Sears, PT, 2011

Active shoulder external rotation is an excellent exercise to improve the use of your rotator cuff muscles. This exercise is very effective to perform after rotator cuff surgery or after a shoulder injury. Be sure to talk to your doctor and physical therapist to ensure that this exercise is appropriate for you.

To start this exercise, lie on your side with the shoulder to be exercised on top. Keep your elbow bent to 90 degrees and tucked into your side. Your elbow should remain at your side the entire time. Your hand should be resting comfortably in front of your navel.

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Active Shoulder External Rotation

Slowly rotate your shoulder so your hand moves up towards the ceiling.
While keeping your elbow tucked by your side, slowly rotate your shoulder and bring the back of your hand up towards the ceiling. Brett Sears, PT, 2011

Slowly raise your hand up towards the ceiling. Your elbow should remain bent and should stay tucked into your side. The motion should be coming from your shoulder as it rotates. When your shoulder rotates out all the way, hold the end position for two seconds, and then slowly return to the starting position.

You should perform 8 to 12 pain free repetitions of this exercise. Then, progress to the final shoulder acitve range of motion exercise.

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Sidelying Shoulder Internal Rotation Exercise

Starting shoulder internal rotation.
Lie on one side with your bottom elbow bent 90 degrees. Brett Sears, 2011

To start active shoulder internal rotation, you must lie on your side, but this time your shoulder to be exercised should be on the bottom. You may have to move your arm forward an inch or two so that you are not lying directly on your arm or elbow.

Keep your elbow bent to 90 degrees, and keep your palm facing up.

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Shoulder Internal Rotation Exercise

Shoulder internal rotation AROM.
Slowly rotate your shoulder so your hand raises up. Keep your elbow bent. Brett Sears, PT, 2011

While keeping your elbow bent to 90 degrees, slowly rotate your shoulder so that your hand moves up towards your navel. The ROM should be pain free. Once your hand is up at your navel, hold this position for two seconds, and then slowly lower back to the starting position.

Repeat this exercise for 8 to 12 repetitions. Be sure that no pain is caused by this exercise.

The four exercises in this step-by-step guide are meant to help improve the active range of motion around your shoulder. Once these exercises become easy, you may wish to progress to shoulder and rotator cuff strengthening exercises by performing these exercises with free weights. Rotator cuff strengthening exercises with resistance bands are also a great way to strengthen your shoulder. Again, your doctor or physical therapist can help you decide the safest way to progress with your shoulder exercise program.

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