Post Operative Shoulder Rehabilitation Exercises

Woman suffering from shoulder pain

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If you have had shoulder surgery, you will likely benefit from physical therapy after surgery to help get things moving toward a full recovery. Your PT can assess your condition and help improve the way your shoulder moves and functions.

Exercise in the immediate post-operative period can help improve your shoulder motion and start your shoulder rehab in the right direction. Early motion after surgery can also help prevent contractures and the dreaded frozen shoulder.

A thorough post-operative shoulder exercise program is essential for adequate recovery after shoulder surgery. Muscle weakness and stiffness of the shoulder joint result too often due to delayed initiation of a program. As a result, it is essential to incorporate strengthening and stretching exercise routine as soon as possible after surgery. Making this a priority will maximize your recovery.

You should discuss when it is appropriate to begin rehabbing your shoulder with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise regimen.

Below a complete post-operative shoulder rehabilitation program is reviewed. The program should be performed three times a day.

Range of Motion Exercises

Starting early motion exercises after shoulder surgery progresses from simple motions to more complex movements. Exercises to consider may include:

Pendulum Exercise

  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.

Wand Exercises

Use a stick to perform these exercises:

  • Flexion: Stand upright and hold a stick in both hands, palms down. Stretch your arms by lifting them over your head, keeping your elbows straight. Hold for 5 seconds and return to the starting position.
  • Extension: Stand upright and hold a stick in both hands behind your back. Move the stick away from your back. Hold the end position for 5 seconds. Relax and return to the starting position.
  • External Rotation: Lie on your back and hold a stick in both hands, palms up. Your upper arms should be resting on the floor, your elbows at your sides and bent 90 degrees. Using your good arm, push your injured arm out away from your body while keeping the elbow of the injured arm at your side. Hold the stretch for 5 seconds.
  • Internal Rotation: Stand upright holding a stick with both hands behind your back; it should be perpendicular to the floor, in line with the body. Place the hand on your uninjured side behind your head grasping the stick, and the hand on your injured side behind your back at your waist. Move the stick up and down your back by bending your elbows. Hold the bent position for 5 seconds and then return to the starting position.
  • Shoulder Abduction and Adduction: Stand upright and hold a stick with both hands, palms down. Rest against the front of your thighs. While keeping your elbows straight, use your good arm to push your injured arm out to the side and up as high as possible. Hold for 5 seconds.
  • Horizontal Abduction and Adduction: Stand upright and hold a stick in both hands. Place your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level. Keep your arms straight and swing the stick to one side, feel the stretch, and hold for 5 seconds. Then swing the stick to the other side, feel the stretch, and hold for 5 seconds.

Strengthening Exercises

Getting your shoulder muscles working properly after surgery requires you to do strengthening exercises. These exercises should be progressive in nature; start easy and then progress. Exercises to consider include:

Rotator Cuff Exercises

  • Exercise One: Lie on your stomach on a table or a bed. Put one arm out at shoulder level with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and your hand down. Keeping your elbow bent, slowly raise your hand. Stop when your hand is level with your shoulder. Lower the hand slowly.
  • Exercise Two: Lie on your side on a bed or the floor. Place your upper arm at your side with your elbow bent to 90 degrees, and your forearm resting against your chest, palm down. Rotate your shoulder out, raising your forearm until it is level with your shoulder. Lower the hand slowly.
  • Exercise Three: Stand with your arms slightly behind you with both thumbs down. Raise your arms up, pretending that you are emptying a can with each hand. Lower the arms slowly

You can also incorporate rotator cuff strengthening exercises with a resistance band into your shoulder rehab program. Scapular stabilization may also be helpful to keep your shoulder moving properly when you raise your arm up.

A Word From Verywell

Performing these exercises three times a day will help improve shoulder strength and range of motion after undergoing an operative procedure. Remember to apply ice to the affected shoulder after performing the exercise routine. Stop any exercise if significant pain or discomfort is felt, and again, check in with your healthcare provider before starting and exercise program.

1 Source
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. Kjær BH, Magnusson SP, Warming S, Henriksen M, Krogsgaard MR, Juul-kristensen B. Progressive early passive and active exercise therapy after surgical rotator cuff repair - study protocol for a randomized controlled trial (the CUT-N-MOVE trial). Trials. 2018;19(1):470. doi.:10.1186/s13063-018-2839-5.

Additional Reading

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.