Shoulder Exercises After Arthroscopic Surgery

If you have shoulder pain, you may benefit from physical therapy to help you regain normal shoulder range of motion and strength and to return to normal function. Your physical therapist may use various modalities to help control your pain or improve muscle function, and he or she will likely prescribe shoulder exercises.

If your pain persists, your doctor may recommend that you have shoulder surgery to correct your problem. Shoulder arthroscopy is a procedure where surgical instruments are introduced to your shoulder via small portals. These tiny holes help to decrease the likelihood of infection, can keep pain to a minimum, and allow for more rapid healing and return to normal activity.

Different shoulder arthroscopic procedures may include:

  • Rotator cuff repair
  • Labrum repair
  • Sub acromial decompression
  • Distal resection of the clavicle

Rehabilitation after shoulder arthroscopy is one of the best ways to achieve a full recovery. The goals of rehab after shoulder surgery typically include improving shoulder range of motion and strength, decreasing pain, and improving overall functional use of your upper extremity. Progression of exercises should be supervised by your physician and physical therapist. Following a step-by-step shoulder arthroscopy post-op exercise progression can help you have a successful rehab. 

Be sure to check in with your doctor before starting this, or any other, exercise program for your shoulders to ensure that exercise is safe for you to do.

Scapular Stabilization Exercises

The prone "I" scapular stabilization exercise.
Brett Sears, PT, 2011

Scapular, or shoulder blade, stabilization exercises can be done to help gain stability around your shoulder joint. Remember that your shoulder joint consists of the articulation between your collarbone, scapula, and upper bone. All three of these bones must move properly for full shoulder and arm function. 

The stabilization exercises can be done while lying on your stomach and lifting your arm out to the side, up overhead, and then by pulling your arm down to your hip.

Check this step-by-step guide to scapular stabilization program, and perform each exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions. Remember to stop if you feel any pain in your shoulder or neck area.

Pendulum Exercises

Shoulder pendulums, also known as Codman's exercises, are a simple way to relax your shoulder muscles after surgery. The pendulum exercises help to gently mobilize your shoulder joint and can be a first step to getting your range of motion back after shoulder surgery.

Be sure to move in slow, steady circles, and stop if you feel any pain.

  1. Bend over at the waist letting the affected arm hang down at your side.
  2. Sway your body back and forth using the weight of the arm and gravity to generate small circles at the surgical shoulder.
  3. Use this technique to move your arm in clockwise and counter-clockwise circles.

Shoulder pendulums are also a great way to get your arm away from your body to apply deodorant.

Resisted Rotator Cuff Exercises

Rotator cuff strengthening is simple with a resistance band.
Brett Sears, PT, 2012

Once you shoulder is moving again, you can perform rotator cuff strengthening exercises with a resistance band or light weights. This can help get your shoulder working properly again and help you return to normal activity and function.

These exercises are typically not performed until three to four weeks post arthroscopy. To perform these exercises, the shoulder should be moved through flexion, extension, abduction, and internal/external rotation against resistance provided by elastic tubing or light weights. Perform each motion 10 to 15 times. Your PT can show you the exact technique to use.

In general, shoulder exercises should be done for six to eight weeks following shoulder arthroscopic surgery. Your PT can show you what to do to maintain your rehab gains once you are fully healed. Continuing to exercise can help prevent future problems with your shoulders.

Isometric Exercises

Isometric exercise is a safe way to start getting your rotator cuff muscles working after shoulder surgery. Isometric means that the muscles around your shoulder contract, but no motion occurs. Here is how you do shoulder isometrics.

  1. Stand sideways along a wall with your elbow at a 90-degree angle.
  2. Position the outside of your forearm against the wall.
  3. Press into the wall, contracting your muscles. (however, you will not move your shoulder).
  4. Hold for five seconds and repeat five times.
  5. Turn 180 degrees and position the inside of your forearm against the wall.
  6. Repeat steps two through five.

Remember, you are not trying to crush the wall when performing the shoulder isometrics. Just give your arm a gentle press, and be sure to stop if you feel any pain.

A Word From Verywell

Physical therapy after shoulder arthroscopic surgery involves slowly and gradually getting your shoulder moving. Your PT can work with you to devise a specialized exercise program for you to do after shoulder arthroscopy.

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Article Sources

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  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Shoulder Arthroscopy. Updated October 2019.

  2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Shoulder Surgery Exercise Guide. Updated February 2017.

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  4. Reinold MM, Gill TJ, Wilk KE, Andrews JR. Current concepts in the evaluation and treatment of the shoulder in overhead throwing athletes, part 2: injury prevention and treatmentSports Health. 2010;2(2):101–115. doi:10.1177/1941738110362518