Isometric Shoulder Exercises

Isometric exercise is a type of exercise your physical therapist may prescribe if you have shoulder pain. It may be part of a regimen designed to help you regain normal shoulder range of motion (ROM), strength, and functional mobility.

Your physical therapist will be able to assess your condition and prescribe various treatments to help you return to your normal self. Exercises for your shoulder are essential for helping you regain normal function.

Various types of exercises you may be taught in physical therapy may include:

Isometric exercises are performed by simply contracting your muscles without any other movement. Your physical therapist may prescribe isometric shoulder exercises as part of your rehab home exercise program.

Isometric exercise is favorable:

  • In the initial stages of therapy, when inflammation may make shoulder motion painful
  • After shoulder surgery
  • When trying to improve muscular function in a specific shoulder ROM

Shoulder isometrics can be performed up to three times per day, but be sure to ask your physical therapist about the frequency for your specific condition.

Make sure you check in with your healthcare provider before starting this, or any other, exercise program. It is also recommended you visit your physical therapist to learn how to do the exercises properly and to be sure the exercises are appropriate for your specific condition.


Isometric Shoulder Flexion

isometric shoulder flexion

Brett Sears

To perform shoulder flexion:

  • Stand facing a wall.
  • Bend the elbow on the side of the shoulder you want to exercise and make a fist.
  • Place a folded towel between your fist and the wall, and gently press your hand into the wall.
  • Hold for five seconds, and then slowly release.

There is no need to try to push the wall over. Just press gently into the wall to activate your shoulder muscles. This is especially important if you are just starting isometric exercise after shoulder surgery. If it causes pain, take a break.

Do 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move on to the next exercise: isometric shoulder abduction.


Isometric Shoulder Abduction

isometric shoulder abduction

Brett Sears

To perform isometric shoulder abduction exercises:

  • Stand about six inches from a wall, but turn your body so it is perpendicular to the wall.
  • The shoulder you wish to exercise should be close to the wall.
  • Make a fist and press it into the wall. You may wish to use a folded up towel for a little extra comfort.
  • Gently press into the wall as if you are trying to lift your arm out to the side, and hold it there for five seconds.
  • Slowly release pressure on the wall.

Again, no need to push the wall over; gentle pressure will do.

Perform 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move onto the next exercise, which is designed to get your rotator cuff muscles working.


Isometric Shoulder External Rotation

Isometric shoulder exercise for external rotation.

Brett Sears

Isometric shoulder external rotation is an exercise that can help strengthen your rotator cuff muscles, specifically your teres minor and your infraspinatus. To perform the exercise:

  • Continue standing perpendicular to a wall about six inches from it.
  • The shoulder you are exercising shoulder be closest to the wall.
  • Bend your elbow 90 degrees, make a fist, and press the back of your hand into the wall as if you were rotating your arm outwards.
  • Use a small towel for a little padding, if needed.
  • Gently press into the wall for about five seconds.
  • Slowly release pressure on the wall.
  • Stop the exercise if you feel any increased pain.

Do 10 to 15 repetitions, and then start the next rotator cuff isometric exercise.


Isometric Shoulder Internal Rotation

shoulder isometric internal rotation in physical therapy

Brett Sears

To perform isometric shoulder internal rotation:

  • Position your body so that you're facing a door frame or an outside corner of a wall.
  • The shoulder you're exercising should be near the door opening or corner.
  • Bend your elbow 90 degrees, make a fist, and gently press into the corner wall or door jamb as if you were trying to rotate your hand inward towards your belly button.
  • Remember, no motion should occur in your shoulder during the exercise.
  • Use a small folded towel for padding.
  • Press and hold for five seconds, and then slowly release.

Perform 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move on to the final shoulder isometric exercise: isometric extension.


Isometric Shoulder Extension

Physical therapy shoulder isometric extension exercise.

Brett Sears

To perform isometric shoulder extension:

  • Stand about six inches away from a wall with your back facing it.
  • Keep your elbow straight so your hand is down near your hip.
  • Make a fist, and gently press it into the wall behind you.
  • Remember, very little motion should occur at your shoulder.
  • Hold the pressure against the wall for 5 seconds, and then release slowly.

Do 10 to 15 repetitions.

Once you start regaining shoulder muscle activation, you can progress your shoulder isometrics with dynamic resistance band isometrics and shoulder active ROM. 

A Word From Verywell

Shoulder isometric exercise is a great first step during your rehab process for your shoulder condition.

By performing the exercises early in your therapy program, you can set yourself up to have a seamless transition into more advanced shoulder strengthening exercises. This can help you return to your previous level of function quickly and safely.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nikolaidou O, Migkou S, Karampalis C. Rehabilitation after Rotator Cuff Repair. Open Orthop J. 2017;11:154-162. doi:10.2174/1874325001711010154

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Exercise as treatment for arthritis: Procedure details. Last reviewed October 7, 2016.

  3. Sgroi TA, Cilenti M. Rotator cuff repair: post-operative rehabilitation concepts. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2018;11(1):86-91. doi: 10.1007/s12178-018-9462-7

Additional Reading
  • Mullaney, M. J., Perkinson, C., Kremenic, I., Tyler, T. F., Orishimo, K., & Johnson, C. (2017). EMG OF SHOULDER MUSCLES DURING REACTIVE ISOMETRIC ELASTIC RESISTANCE EXERCISES. International journal of sports physical therapy12(3), 417.

By Brett Sears, PT
Brett Sears, PT, MDT, is a physical therapist with over 20 years of experience in orthopedic and hospital-based therapy.