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Exercises You Can Do with a Sprained Shoulder

author image Matthew Schirm
Matthew Schirm has worked in the sports-performance field since 1998. He has professional experience as a college baseball coach and weight-training instructor. He earned a Master of Science in human movement from A.T. Still University in 2009.
Exercises You Can Do with a Sprained Shoulder
Perform resistance exercises to strengthen your shoulder following a ligament sprain. Photo Credit Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images

A rehabilitation program that includes exercises to restore flexibility and strength in the shoulder is essential for treating a shoulder sprain, which is characterized by damage to the ligaments that stabilize the shoulder joint. This involves performing resistance exercises through normal shoulder joint ranges of motion -- abduction, adduction, extension, flexion and rotation -- on a regular basis. Seek advice from a physical therapist about how to appropriately implement an exercise program following your injury.

Empty Can Exercise

The empty can exercise strengthens the muscles that abduct and internally rotate your shoulder, mimicking a motion you might make when dumping liquid from a can or bottle. Stand upright and hold a dumbbell or other weighted object in the hand on the same side as your injured shoulder. Lift your arm to shoulder height at a 45-degree angle between forward and sideways, and turn your thumb downward at the same time, like you're turning a can upside down. Reverse back to the starting position slowly, then repeat. Complete eight to 12 repetitions, then perform the exercise with your non-injured arm to promote muscular balance.


The muscles that adduct your shoulder joints work to bring your arms together in front of your chest during a push-up, and to control the speed of movement as you lower your body back down. Start by performing push-ups against a wall from a standing position when your doctor allows you to start exercising after spraining your shoulder. Perform push-ups from the floor once you can complete 20 wall push-ups without feeling pain, first from your knees and then from your toes. Keep your torso and legs aligned throughout the exercise for each variation.

Shoulder Extension

The shoulder extension exercise targets the muscles behind your shoulder joint that are responsible for moving your arm from in front of your chest to your waist and behind your back. Lie face down on a flat bench with your injured arm hanging below your chest off the side of the bench. Lift your arm along the side of your body, then lower it back down slowly and repeat. Use your body weight only at first, then hold a dumbbell for extra resistance. You can also perform the exercise by bending forward at your waist rather than lying on a bench.

Shoulder External/Internal Rotation

Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles after suffering a shoulder sprain is especially important if you play a sport that requires repeated overhead arm movements, such as baseball, softball, swimming, tennis and volleyball. Lie on your back and hold a light dumbbell in the hand on the same side as your injured shoulder. Lay your arm on the floor, extended away from your shoulder with your palm facing upward, then slide your forearm toward your ear until your elbow forms a 90-degree angle. Internally rotate your upper arm as far as possible, arcing the dumbbell forward, then externally rotate your upper arm to return to the starting position. Complete eight to 12 repetitions.

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