The Benefit of Shoulder Pulleys in Physical Therapy

If you have shoulder pain or have had shoulder surgery such as a rotator cuff repair, you may be having difficulty using your arm for basic functional tasks like brushing your hair or putting on a belt. Your shoulder pain may also disturb your normal sleep pattern.

Shoulder pain is a common problem for which your healthcare provider may refer you to physical therapy. A physical therapist can evaluate your situation and devise a plan of care to help you return to normal activity and function quickly and safely.

Therapist working with senior patient in rehab center
Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

Goals of Physical Therapy

Common goals of physical therapy for shoulder pain include, but are not limited to:

Common Treatments for Shoulder Problems

Your physical therapist may use various treatment modalities to help alleviate your shoulder pain. While treatments like ultrasound or electrical stimulation may feel good, exercise has been proven to be the most effective method to improve arm function if you have shoulder pain, or have had shoulder surgery.

Conditions that may cause a significant loss of range of motion in your shoulder may include:

If you have any condition that causes a loss of ROM in your shoulder, check in with your healthcare provider and PT to get started on the right treatment for you.

If you have ROM loss in your shoulder, your physical therapist may use various techniques and exercises to help improve mobility. They may, for example, manually stretch your shoulder in various directions to improve ROM. Exercises like the towel shoulder stretch may be prescribed to work on your ROM as well.

Shoulder Pulleys to Improve ROM

Over-the-door shoulder pulleys are another option you may use to help improve ROM. These pulleys can help you stretch your shoulder in various directions to improve mobility—and ultimately the function—of your shoulder.

The shoulder pulley is an apparatus that's hooked over the top of a door, with a small pulley system near the top, and a rope with handles that hangs down from the pulley.

You can use the pulleys to perform various shoulder exercises to help improve ROM in different directions in your shoulder. Your physical therapist can instruct you in proper techniques to use the pulleys, so be sure to follow their instructions closely. Aggressive ROM exercises too soon after surgery can injure your shoulder and delay healing. If you have questions about whether shoulder ROM exercises are safe for you, consult your healthcare provider and physical therapist.

If your physical therapist feels that you'd benefit from home-use of shoulder pulleys, you may wish to purchase a set. They're available ​at many sporting goods stores. If you wish, you can also easily make your own shoulder pulley set with some simple items from your local hardware or home improvement store.

When shoulder pulley exercises become easy, your physical therapist may prescribe more advanced exercises. A typical progression from shoulder pulley ROM exercises would be to perform active ROM exercises, and finally, shoulder strengthening exercises. You should work with your healthcare provider and physical therapist to ensure that the exercises you perform are appropriate for your specific condition.

Shoulder pain can limit your ability to use your arm normally and can prevent you from working or participating in recreational activity. Improving your shoulder ROM may be a necessary component of your shoulder rehabilitation. Using over-the-door shoulder pulleys may be just the thing to get your shoulder moving and feeling normal again.

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. Pieters L, Lewis J, Kuppens K, et al. An update of systematic reviews examining the effectiveness of conservative physical therapy interventions for subacromial shoulder pain. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2020;50(3):131-141. doi:10.2519/jospt.2020.8498

  2. Baumgarten KM, Osborn R, Schweinle WE, Zens MJ, Helsper EA. Are pulley exercises initiated 6 weeks after rotator cuff repair a safe and effective rehabilitative treatment? : a randomized controlled trial. Am J Sports Med. 2016;44(7):1844-1851. doi:10.1177/0363546516640763

  3. Struyf F, Meeus M. Current evidence on physical therapy in patients with adhesive capsulitis: what are we missing? Clin Rheumatol. 2014;33(5):593-600. doi:10.1007/s10067-013-2464-3

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