Shoulder Stabilization Exercises

If you have shoulder pain, you may be referred to a physical therapist to help you control your pain, return you to normal functional mobility, and to regain normal use of your arm and shoulder.

Your physical therapist (PT) has a variety of treatments and modalities to help you. One of the best treatments for your shoulder is exercise, and the PT can assess your particular shoulder condition and prescribe the right exercises for you.

Some types of exercises for your shoulder include:

Scapular Shoulder Stabilization

This step-by-step guide is similar to a shoulder program your PT may use during your rehab to help you get control of your scapula. The scapula, or shoulder blade, is the triangular-shaped bone on each side of your upper back. The socket of the shoulder joint is a part of the scapula.

If you injure your shoulder, you may notice that it is difficult to properly use your arm, and sometimes you may start using your shoulder blade to help move it. This can cause poor habits that may continue to limit the normal arm use long after your shoulder injury has healed. If this is the case, your physical therapist may prescribe scapular stabilization exercises to help you regain normal control and use of your shoulder.

Common problems that may lead to the need for scapular stabilization exercise include, but are not limited to:

  • Rotator cuff tears and tendinitis
  • Shoulder bursitis
  • Scapulocostal syndrome (snapping scapula syndrome)
  • Shoulder surgery
  • Shoulder arthritis
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Shoulder dislocation
  • After upper extremity fracture
  • Scapular dyskinesia

Before starting these or any other shoulder exercises, it is best to consult your doctor or physical therapist to be certain that exercising is safe for you to do.

1

Prone Row Scapular Stabilization Exercise

The prone row is a great scapular stabilization exercise.

Brett Sears

The first scapular stabilization exercise is the prone row. You perform this by lying on your stomach on a bed. Slide to one side of the bed so that your arm is hanging straight down. Then, slowly bend your elbow and lift your hand towards your armpit. The motion should feel like you are pulling on a rope to start a lawnmower.

As you raise your arm, your shoulder blade should slowly move backward and up. When your hand is almost to your armpit, hold this position for one or two seconds, and then slowly lower back down to the starting position. Repeat this motion for eight to 15 repetitions. You can make this exercise more challenging by holding a small weight or dumbbell in your hand.

2

The Prone T Scapular Stabilization Exercise

The prone "T" exercise can help you gain control of your shoulder after injury.

Brett Sears

To perform the prone "T" (prone means to lie face down), lie on your stomach on the edge of a bed and hang your arm straight down. You can support your head with your opposite hand on your forehead.

While keeping your arm straight, slowly lift your arm out to the side and pinch your shoulder blade back towards your spine. You should feel like one-half of the letter "T." Hold this position for one to two seconds, and then slowly lower back to the starting position.

Repeat this exercise for eight to 15 repetitions. Once you are done, move on to the next exercise.

3

The Prone Y Scapular Stabilization Exercise

The prone "Y" exercise for scapular strengthening.

Brett Sears

The prone "Y" is done just like the prone "T" except that your arm forms the letter "Y" during the motion.

Start by lying on your stomach on a bed with your arm hanging down. Slowly lift your arm up in a diagonal direction so that your shoulder blade pinches back behind you. Your thumb should be facing up towards the ceiling. You should feel like one-half of the letter "Y" when you are in the uppermost position.

Hold this "Y" position for one to two seconds. Slowly lower back down to the starting position and repeat eight to 15 repetitions. Then you can move on to the final scapular stabilization exercise.

4

The Prone "I" Scapular Stabilization Exercise

The prone "I" scapular stabilization exercise.

Brett Sears

Start the prone "I" in the same position as all the other scapular stabilization exercises. Simply lie on your belly with your arm hanging straight down. Keep your elbow straight and raise your arm up overhead. Your shoulder blade should slowly pinch back as you do this and your arm should be next to your ear at the uppermost position.

Hold the top position for one to two seconds, and then slowly return your arm to the starting position. Repeat this exercise eight to 15 repetitions.

When you are able to perform these exercises easily, you can make them more challenging by holding a small dumbbell in your hand. If you don't have a dumbbell, hold a can of soup or bottle of water. Just remember to start with a light weight. One or two pounds should do. Going too heavy, too soon, may cause worsening of your shoulder pain. Your PT can help guide you in determining if you should add resistance to scapular stabilization exercises.

A Word From Verywell

Shoulder pain and dysfunction are common problems that your physical therapist can help you manage. Scapular stabilization exercises are a great way to regain normal control and use of your arm after a shoulder injury or surgery. These exercises can be performed a few times per week to maintain appropriate strength and postural control of your shoulder to help prevent future problems.

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Article Sources

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  2. Physiopedia. Rotator Cuff Tears.

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  5. University of Wisconsin, UW Health Sports Rehabilitation. Rehabilitation Guidelines for Shoulder Arthroplasty and Reverse Ball and Socket Arthroplasty. Updated February 2014.

  6. Kirthika V, Bhavani P, Gopalakrishnan R. Effect of combining scapular stabilization techniques with conventional physiotherapy in improving range of motion and functional ability in subjects with phase ii adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder joint. International journal of physiotherapy and occupational therapy. 2015 1(1): 25-34.

  7. National Academy of Sports Medicine. Shoulder Function: Enhancing Scapular Stabilization. Published October 12, 2017.