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Passive Range of Motion Exercises for Shoulder

by
author image Tim Petrie
Tim Petrie is a Physical Therapist and an Orthopedic Certified Specialist working in Milwaukee, Wisc. When he isn't working, he loves distance running, Packers football, and traveling with his wife and his energetic three year old daughter.
Passive Range of Motion Exercises for Shoulder
Use passive range of motion exercises to loosen stiff shoulders. Photo Credit Staras/iStock/Getty Images

Have you ever had a shoulder injury or surgery? If so, you know moving your arm can be difficult and quite painful afterwards. Fortunately, passive range of motion, or ROM, exercises can be helpful in these situations. They allow you to stretch your arm in various directions without actively using your own muscles. This can help improve the motion of the arm without causing excess pain.

The doorway stretch is used to improve external rotation to make activities like washing your hair easier.
The doorway stretch is used to improve external rotation to make activities like washing your hair easier. Photo Credit vadimguzhva/iStock/Getty Images

Doorway Shoulder Stretch

This exercise stretches into external or lateral rotation. It helps to increase the motion used to reach behind your head while putting on a shirt or washing your hair.

Step 1:

Stand in a door way and turn sideways so you are looking at the door frame. Bend your elbow to a 90-degree angle and press your palm against the frame.

Step 2:

Slowly rotate your body away from your palm until a gentle stretch is felt in the front of the shoulder. Keep your elbow against your side at all times and do not allow your shoulder to shrug.

Step 3:

Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and then rotate back to the starting position.

Table Flexion Stretch

Table flexion stretches help improve shoulder flexion. You use the motion of flexion to reach forward and overhead, as though grabbing something from a cabinet or shelf.

Step 1:

While standing in front of a counter or table top, use your unaffected arm to gentle place your affected forearm and hand onto the surface.

Step 2:

Without allowing your forearm or hand to move, slowly walk backwards from the surface as you simultaneously bend at the waist.

Step 3:

Once a light stretch is felt near your underarm, hold it for 15 to 30 seconds before slowly returning to the starting position.

Dowel Stretch

In this exercise, use a dowel or broom stick to improve shoulder extension. Extension occurs when you move your shoulder backwards as though reaching for a wallet in your back pocket.

Step 1:

Stand up straight with your arm hanging at your side. Use your unaffected arm to place a dowel in the hand of the shoulder being stretched. Alternatively, use a cane or a broomstick.

Step 2:

Slowly push through the dowel with the unaffected arm. This will cause the the affected shoulder to move backwards. Do not allow the arm being stretched to help with the movement.

Step 3:

When you feel a mild stretch in the front of the shoulder, hold for 15 to 30 seconds and then slowly return to the initial position.

The sleeper stretch improved internal rotation, which is needed while fastening a bra or tucking in a shirt.
The sleeper stretch improved internal rotation, which is needed while fastening a bra or tucking in a shirt. Photo Credit adamico70/iStock/Getty Images

Sleeper Stretch

This technique helps improve your internal or medial rotation. This is important when reaching in back of your body to tuck in a shirt or fasten a bra.

Step 1:

Lie on your affected side. Use your other arm to place the arm being stretched out in front of you at shoulder level. Bend your elbow to a 90-degree angle with your palm facing down towards your feet.

Step 2:

Using your other hand to push; slowly move the affected forearm towards the bed or floor until a stretch is felt in the back portion of the shoulder. If you are unable to feel a stretch without causing pain, roll your body back slightly to decrease the stretch’s intensity.

Step 3:

Maintain the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and then slowly release it.

Sideways Table Stretch

This exercise improves your shoulder abduction range of motion, or ROM. You use this motion, which occurs when you reach out to the side and overhead, while lifting your arm to put on deodorant or to shave your underarms.

Step 1:

Stand sideways near a counter or table with your affected arm closest to the surface. Use the unaffected arm to place the forearm and hand of the shoulder being stretched on the counter.

Step 2:

Keep the forearm from moving and slowly side step away from the counter as you lean your body towards it. Do not lean your weight onto the shoulder being stretched or allow it to shrug.

Step 3:

Once a light stretch is felt near your underarm, hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds before returning to the starting position.

Warnings and Precautions:

To improve passive range of motion, complete three to five repetitions of each stretch. This can be performed two to three times each day. While you should feel a stretch or pull, none of the exercises should cause increased pain. Be sure to speak to your doctor with any concerns prior to beginning a stretching regimen, especially if you have recently undergone surgery.

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