Your shoulder is one of your most mobile joints, which means you can throw, swim and swing with ease. However, its mobility can also lead to dislocation, if and when the head of your humerus, or upper arm bone, frees itself from the socket, or glenoid.
Dislocation can also include tendon, ligament damage and, in some cases, surgery to repair some of this connective tissue or correct a possible fracture associated with the injury.
After you've dislocated your shoulder, avoid any sports-style exercise or lifting workout that involves your shoulder for at least six weeks and up to three months, or longer, as recommended by your doctor. This means no tackle football, tennis matches or golf games.
After the initial pain of dislocating your shoulder wears off, you'll probably want to get moving again in some way. What types of exercise are OK really depend on the degree of your dislocation — partial or full — and the advice of your doctor. Some rehab exercises will be prescribed by your doctor or a physical therapist about two to four weeks following the injury.
Following shoulder dislocation, you'll likely be immobilized for several weeks in a splint. After this period of immoblization, a physical therapist recommends gentle exercises. It's best to meet with a therapist on your own to learn how to do the exercises and to clear any of them with your doctor.
The following are some examples of exercises you might encounter during rehab:
1. Pendular Swinging and Circles
These moves increase range of motion and discourage stiffness in the affected shoulder.
HOW TO DO IT: Lean forward from your hips and lay your healthy arm on a bench or table. With your back parallel to the floor, allow the arm of the side with the dislocated shoulder to hang heavy.
Swing the arm gently front to back about 10 times. Change the direction of the swing to side to side for 10 reps. Circle your arm 10 times in a clockwise direction; repeat with 10 rotations in a counterclockwise direction.
2. Static Strengthening
These exercises build strength in your shoulder muscles without asking you to actually move the joint. You'll challenge all the directions in which your shoulders can move --flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and rotation.
Do the following with your elbow bent to a 90-degree angle. Your elbow and upper arm remain against your side the whole time.
- Flexors: Face a wall and press your fist into it.
- Extensors: Face away from a wall with your back nearly touching it. Push your elbow into the wall.
- Abductors: Stand with your affected side right against the wall. Press your forearm and elbow into the wall as if you were trying to push it away.
- Adductors: Place a towel under your arm and squeeze your upper arm against it, trying to mash it into your trunk.
- External Rotators: Stand inside a doorway and press your outer forearm against the frame.
- Internal Rotators: Stand inside a doorway and press your inner forearm against the frame.
Hold each of these 5 to 10 seconds for 10 repetitions.
3. Mobility Exercises
Once cleared, mobility exercises help restore your range of motion so that you can continue to build strength. Grasp a broomstick handle or a dowel with your hands about shoulder distance for these moves.
- Flexion: Raise the stick overhead.
- Abbduction/Adduction: Move the stick side to side to raise your hand up to the height of your shoulders. Keep your arms straight.
- Extension: Place the stick behind your back and parallel to the ground as you grasp it with an overhand grip.
Do each of these moves about 10 times at each prescribed session.
Around week six, you may start re-strengthening the dislocated shoulder side of your upper body. However, some people need to wait as long as 10 weeks before taking this step.
You might add resistance in the form of resistance bands or even light weights, but always clear it with your therapist first. If you feel any pain, report it to your doctor and stop exercising immediately.
After 10 to 16 weeks, as directed by your doctor, you can start to return to all normal activity, including shoulder-specific moves such as throwing and catching. When you do jump back in, do so gradually; don't expect to be at the level at which you left off.
For example, push-ups are a possible exercise to work back up to after dislocating your shoulder. You'd start with push-ups against a wall, progress to push-ups supported on your knees and, eventually, to a full variation.
Avoid contact sports until you're completely cleared. Once you've dislocated your shoulder, you're more susceptible to the injury in the future.
What About Cardio?
Much cardiovascular activity uses the large muscles of your thighs, hips and buttocks, not shoulders. While swimming or pedaling an elliptical while moving the arm poles will clearly be out of the question, jogging or indoor cycling might be OK.
Again, check with your doctor before introducing any type of exercise. If the jarring of impact during cardio hurts your shoulder, you'll need to lighten up.