Exercises for Shoulder Pain


















What can you do to avoid shoulder damage so you can exercise regularly, enjoy daily activities, and reach your health and fitness potential? Start by learning about common shoulder problems and reviewing a range of exercises to keep the shoulders strong and ease the sting of shoulder pain.

Common Shoulder Injuries

Even though diagnosing shoulder injuries is outside of my scope of practice as a fitness professional, I would like you to know the terminology of commonly diagnosed shoulder conditions/injuries, my St. Louis, Clayton and Brentwood, MO personal training clients.  These are the four most common types:

  • Rotator cuff disorders, such as tears or inflammation  in one of the four rotator cuff muscles and accompanying tendons
  • Glenohumeral joint disorders, such as “frozen shoulder” and joint inflammation
  • Acromioclavicular joint diseases, such as osteoarthritis
  • Referred neck pain, where neck problems cause shoulder pain.

Exercises to Correct Shoulder Imbalances

Shoulder pain usually results from musculoskeletal imbalances in the core structures of the shoulder joints. Thus, exercise programs to prevent shoulder damage or ease pain must address these imbalances.

All shoulder-joint exercise programs should begin with self-myofascial release or self-massage, progress to stretching and then embrace strengthening exercises.

Foam Roller on Thoracic Spine

This exercise rejuvenates the muscles of the thoracic spine and shoulders by releasing excessive tension, which helps improve excessive thoracic kyphosis and protracted shoulder blades.

  1. Lie on your back over a foam roller with your hands behind your head and chin tucked in (the roller should be perpendicular to your torso).
  2. Bend your knees, tuck your hips to prevent the lower back from arching, and lift your pelvis off the floor.
  3. Roll up and down along the thoracic spine, massaging sore or tender spots for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.

Roll up and down the thoracic spine, massaging sore spots.

Tennis Ball Around Shoulder Blade

Massaging the muscles that retract and depress the shoulder blades addresses protracted and elevated shoulder blades and prepares the tissues for subsequent strengthening exercises.

  1. Lie down with your knees bent, head resting on a pillow.
  2. With a tennis ball beside one shoulder blade (between the blade and the spine), pull the arm on that side across your chest.
  3. Find a sore spot and hold for 10–15 seconds to release tension, pausing on all sore spots around the shoulder blade.

Use the tennis ball to release tension and ease sore spots.

Thera Cane® on Back of Neck

This exercise rejuvenates the muscles on the back of the neck to alleviate problems from elevated shoulder blades, a forward head and excessive cervical lordosis.

  1. Sitting in a chair, place the hook end of the Thera Cane on the back of your neck (on the neck extensors and upper fibers of the trapezius muscle).
  2. Apply pressure by pulling the handle of the Thera Cane down and outward; pause on any sore spots you find to release tension.

Thera Cane helps release tension at the back of the neck.

Tennis Ball on Front of Shoulder and Chest

This exercise releases tension in the muscles at the front of the shoulder and chest, enabling the arms to externally rotate and the scapulae to retract. It also prepares this area for subsequent stretching and strengthening exercises.

  1. Lie face down with arm outstretched straight, palm down.
  2. Place a tennis ball on the front of the shoulder/chest and scoot your body to move the ball to any sore spots.
  3. Maintain pressure for 30 seconds to relieve tension; move to another sore spot.

A tennis ball on sore spots prepares the shoulder for stretching and strength training.

“Why?” Stretch

This exercise stretches the chest and fronts of the shoulders while strengthening the rhomboids, lower traps and external rotators of the shoulders/arms to realign the entire shoulder girdle.

  1. Stand upright with pelvis tilted posteriorly, arms externally rotated to sides.
  2. Contract the rhomboids and external rotators to help pull the arms and shoulders back while activating the lower traps to assist in pulling the shoulders down.
  3. Hold the contracted position for about 30 seconds; release and repeat.

For more information on exercises for shoulder pain, contact Maurie Cofman, CMES, CES, TBMM-CES, Personal Trainer, Certified Medical Exercise Specialist, Health Coach and Corrective Exercise Specialist in the St. Louis, Brentwood, and Clayton, MO area.