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Shoulder Exercises Used in Occupational and Physical Therapy

Shoulder Exercises Used in Occupational and Physical Therapy

The video above demonstrates a basic shoulder exercise that encourages the shoulder to move into a stable position. We refer to it as the “lawnmower”. Controlling the scapula before and during lifting and weight bearing activities is essential.

Physical Therapy

The Shoulder Complex

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body. Its motion allows us to throw a ball, scratch behind our back and reach across our body to grab a seat belt. There are 16 major muscles that control the shoulder blade (scapula) and many of these, the trapezius for example, move the shoulder in several different directions. The often injured rotator cuff is comprised of four individual muscles, the supraspinatus, infrasinatus, teres minor and the subscapularis.

Poor posture, repetitive strain and trauma can all lead to the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles to become inflamed and weakened. While there is great mobility in the shoulder there is a sacrifice in stability. It’s common to know someone who has suffered a shoulder dislocation or had an injury known as a labral tear. These injuries occur when the arm moves beyond its normal range and results in ligament damage. Falling suddenly with an outstretched arm, such as in snowboarding, can result in this type of injury.

Therapeutic Shoulder Exercises

Occupational and physical therapy can return an injured shoulder to a state of stability and strength. There are literally hundreds of shoulder exercises that can facilitate the return of motion and performance. With the guidance of a physician and experienced occupational or physical therapist an individual with a shoulder injury, even one needing surgery, can usually return to sport. Therapy exercises should focus on specific performance goals which can include a pain free return to yoga, tennis and rock climbing.

This second video demonstrates a “robbery” position of the arms. Moving the shoulder and arms through these motions will engage several muscles including the rotator cuff. Discomfort with these positions may indicate injury to the shoulder joint or tendons. 

Performing these shoulder exercises under the guidance of an occupational or physical therapist is recommended. Depending on the injury and phase of healing these and many other exercises can make a condition much worse. Follow our blog and YouTube channel to be notified about future post about exercises that address specific injuries.

If you want the experts at MoveMend to assess your shoulder pain click here!

Written by Aaron Shaw, OTR/L, CHT, CSCS
Occupational Therapist
Certified Hand Therapist
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

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  • Smith
    February 22, 2017 at 5:29 am


  • Kathleen Ryan
    July 27, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks for sharing! This information is very useful!

  • Danie Matthews
    July 28, 2017 at 1:24 am

    Great information to know!

  • Amanda Lacey
    July 28, 2017 at 1:39 am

    This is wonderful to know!

  • Amanda Johnston
    July 28, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Great information! Very useful!

  • Sierra Williams
    July 29, 2017 at 4:48 pm

    This is great to know! I get kinks in my neck and shoulders all the time, maybe I’ll try some of these!

  • Bianca Simpson
    August 2, 2017 at 6:18 am

    This is great information to know! I often get aches in my shoulders. I will try some of these.

  • Daniella Gordon
    September 15, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    I pull my shoulder muscles all the time doing ordinary tasks, so these exercises are really helpful to know!

  • Mabel Smith
    September 19, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    Are there any exercises you would recommend for someone recovering from an injured rotator cuff?

    • Aaron Shaw
      September 23, 2017 at 6:21 pm

      There are many exercises that help with recovery of a rotator cuff injury. Because there are many parts of the rotator cuff that can be injured it’s better to come in for an assessment to be shown custom exercises to address your injury. You can schedule a visit with us directly from our website!

  • Charly Neel
    September 22, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Great info to know, especially when the shoulder is such a used and easily strained joint!

    • Aaron Shaw
      September 23, 2017 at 6:23 pm

      It is the most mobile joint in the body, and therefore it is susceptible to injury. Prevention is the best approach. Come in for some exercises that will decrease your risk of injury and improve overall activity performance!

  • Riley Ellis
    September 25, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Are there any exercises that can prevent shoulder strain? My shoulder joint tends to want to come disjointed, and I’m trying to prevent that from happening again.

    • Aaron Shaw
      September 27, 2017 at 10:12 pm

      Strengthening the rotator cuff and muscles around the shoulder blade helps. In addition to trying the exercises in the videos in the blog, check out our YouTube channel for more shoulder exercises.

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