The 5 Best Exercises to Relieve Shoulder Pain

woman wearing black fitness gear and headphones holding her shoulder in pain while outside
When doing exercises to relieve shoulder pain, focus on bracing and initiating movements through your shoulder blades.
Image Credit: djiledesign/iStock/GettyImages

When it comes to shoulder pain, exercise can be a tricky widget. After all, when pain strikes, the last thing you probably want (or should) do is hoist a heavy barbell overhead. But, at the same time, doing some shoulder pain relief exercises can be the solution feeling and moving better fast, explains Sam Chan, DPT, a New York-based physical therapist.

Start feeling better with these five gentle physical therapist-approved exercises to help shoulder pain. Sprinkle them throughout the day or do them all in order for a full shoulder pain workout. Because they are nice and gently, you can do them as frequently as every day.

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Warning

If you have joint pain, talk to your doctor or physical therapist before starting any new exercises or shoulder pain workouts.

Move 1: Codman

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Sets 5
Reps 10
  1. Brace one arm against a wall or countertop and let the other one hang straight down toward the floor. Hold a light dumbbell in your hand.
  2. Rock your body from side to side, letting your arm move with the motion of your trunk.
  3. Do all reps, then repeat moving forward and backward.
  4. Do all reps, then switch sides.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, this range of motion exercise (called the Codman technique), is a perfect starter exercise to relieve shoulder pain. And, yes, it should feel easy. Don't worry about grabbing a heavy weight or turning it into a strength challenge.

Move 2: Trapezius Stretch

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Sets 3
Time 30 Sec
  1. Slightly tuck your chin so that your head is in a neutral position.
  2. Place the back of one hand on the small of your back and the other on the top of your head.
  3. Bend your neck to the side and gently pull through your hand to drop one ear to your shoulder.
  4. Hold, then slowly release and switch sides.

For anyone who uses a computer or other tech all day long, neck tightness can feel pretty inevitable — and can lead to shoulder pain. This stretch, which targets the upper trapezius muscle (that runs from your shoulder to the base of your skull) is a simple stretch to help relieve shoulder pain.

Move 3: Side-Lying External Rotation

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Sets 2
Reps 10
  1. Lie on one side with your top elbow bent, palm resting on your stomach, holding a light dumbbell.
  2. Pull your shoulder blade back and down.
  3. Keeping your shoulder blade set and elbow bent, lift your palm away from your abdomen until it's parallel to the floor.
  4. Pause, then slowly lower the weight to start.
  5. Do all reps, then switch sides.

Exercises that activate the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint are an effective way to treat rotator cuff issues (one of the more common reasons for shoulder pain), Chan says. This side-lying external rotation exercise, which targets your rotator cuff and shoulder blade (scapular) muscles, is a great way to strengthen these areas.

If this exercise for shoulder pain feels too challenging (or uncomfortable) using a dumbbell, leave the weight aside and do the move only with your hand. If lying on the floor is uncomfortable, you can also do the external shoulder rotation exercise standing with a resistance band.

Move 4: Resistance-Band Row

Sets 3
Reps 10
  1. Attach a long looped resistance band to a secure anchor.
  2. Holding each end of the band and facing the anchor, squeeze your shoulder blades together, then pull through your arms to row your hands to the bottom of your ribs. Keep your shoulders down and away from your ears.
  3. Pause, then slowly move back to start and repeat.

Move 5: Horizontal Shoulder Abduction

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Sets 3
Reps 8
  1. Lie face-down on the edge of a bed or couch with one arm hanging over the side.
  2. With your palm facing your body, squeeze through your shoulder blade to raise your arm out to the side until it's parallel to the floor or as far as comfortable.
  3. Pause, then reverse the movement and repeat.
  4. Do all reps, then switch sides.

The prone horizontal abduction exercise helps relieve shoulder pain by strengthening the middle and lower trapezius, posterior deltoid, infraspinatus and teres minor, according to a report from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Additional reporting by Bojana Galic.

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