Using the Upper Body Ergometer in Physical Therapy

If you have an upper extremity injury, your physical therapist may have you use an upper body ergometer during your rehab. An upper body ergometer, commonly referred to as a UBE in physical therapy clinics, is a piece of exercise equipment which is like a bicycle that you pedal with your arms. It can be used to improve upper extremity strength and endurance, and it may be used to simply improve the overall work-generating capacity of your arm muscles.

A woman in the gym with an injured shoulder
 Nattakorn Maneerat / Getty Images

What Is an Ergometer?

An ergometer is an exercise machine that can measure the work of human muscles. The UBE is an ergometer that can measure how much work your upper body muscles are doing. Settings can be adjusted on the UBE to control resistance to change the amount of work that your upper body muscles are doing. Typical UBE machines have an adjustable seat, and many allow you to also use the machine while standing.

Your physical therapist may have a UBE in the clinic for you to use. Some models are made for commercial use and may include features like a timer, digital resistance adjustment, or an onboard heart rate monitor. Other tabletop models may not have as many features and my simply provide basic pedaling with a manual resistance adjustment knob.

Who Benefits from Using a UBE?

If you have shoulder pain, shoulder surgery, or any other upper extremity problem that may affect the strength or endurance of your arms, your physical therapist may choose to have you use the UBE while in the physical therapy clinic. Also, if you have worn a sling while healing from injury, you may notice that the strength and endurance of your arms are impaired. The UBE can help you improve your strength and endurance to help improve the function of your arms.

Typical injuries that may require the use of a UBE include:

  • Rotator cuff surgery or shoulder bursitis
  • Proximal humerus fracture
  • Radial head or elbow fracture
  • Colles or Smiths fracture
  • Tennis elbow or golfer's elbow
  • Clavicle fracture
  • Shoulder dislocation or labrum tear

If you have had a heart attack, cardiac problems, or pulmonary illness, your healthcare provider may refer you to physical therapy for cardiac rehabilitation or pulmonary rehabilitation. The UBE may be used to help improve your cardiac endurance or pulmonary function so you can quickly get back to normal activities.

Sometimes, lower extremity injuries like fractures or sprains prevent you from using your legs normally. The UBE may be used as a cross-training tool to maintain your fitness level while your lower extremity injury is healing. If you use a wheelchair as your primary means of getting around, your PT may have you work on the UBE to keep your shoulder muscles strong so you can manage your chair. The UBE may also be used as your primary source of aerobic exercise if you are wheelchair-bound . Depending on the settings that your physical therapist chooses to use, the UBE may be primarily for improving cardiorespiratory endurance, or it may be used primarily for strengthening the arms and shoulders.

If you have an injury to your shoulder, elbow, or wrist and attend physical therapy, you may experience the UBE first hand. It can help you get your arms moving to quickly get you back to normal function.

A Word from Verywell

After an upper extremity injury, you may benefit from physical therapy to get back to normal activity. One exercise machine that may be used is a UBE. The UBE can help improve muscular endurance and strength so you can quickly get back to your optimal level of function.

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. Elmer SJ, Danvind J, Holmberg HC. Development of a novel eccentric arm cycle ergometer for training the upper body. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013;45(1):206-11. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e318269c79c

  2. Day JM, Lucado AM, Uhl TL. A Comprehensive Rehabilitation Program for Treating Elbow Tendinopathy. Int J Sports Phys Ther. 2019;14(5):818-829.

  3. Wilbanks SR, Rogers R, Pool S, Bickel CS. Effects of functional electrical stimulation assisted rowing on aerobic fitness and shoulder pain in manual wheelchair users with spinal cord injury. J Spinal Cord Med. 2016;39(6):645-654. doi:10.1179/2045772315Y.0000000052

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