A broken upper humerus can make everyday tasks that involve movement of your shoulder very difficult. To regain maximum function after this injury, it's important to follow the specific humerus fracture rehabilitation exercises prescribed by your physical therapist.
Broken humerus injuries vary significantly in severity. Be sure to follow your doctor's and physical therapist's specific instructions for exercise following this injury.
Humerus Fracture: Recovery Advice
The humerus, or upper arm bone, forms part of your elbow joint at its bottom end and your shoulder joint proximally, at the top of this bone. Fractures in the upper humerus are categorized based on the specific part of the bone that is injured, using the Neer classification system as described in a January 2018 article published by Geriatric Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation.
Humerus fracture recovery advice will vary somewhat, depending on the location and classification of your specific injury and your personal goals, according to a September 2013 article published by Deutsches Arzeblatt International. While the specific exercise timeline might differ between individuals, humerus fracture recovery exercises follow a similar progression across fracture types.
Consult your surgeon before exercising after a humerus fracture to be sure these exercises are safe for you. Injuries that require surgical intervention will be followed by a specific rehabilitation protocol.
1. Range of Motion Exercises
After a humerus fracture, your ability to move your shoulder, called range of motion, will be limited. Humerus fracture recovery exercises typically begin with activities to improve shoulder movement, three weeks after injury, according to rehabilitation guidelines recommended by Mammoth Orthopedic Institute.
Move 1: Pendulums
Pendulums use momentum from your body to gently move your shoulder.
- Stand with your non-injured arm supported on a counter or table.
- Allow your injured arm to dangle as you bend forward at your hips until your back is parallel to the ground.
- Using your body for momentum, shift your hips in a clockwise motion and allow your arm to follow.
- Perform 10 repetitions in each of these directions: clockwise, counterclockwise, forward/backward and side to side.
Move 2: Table Slides
Table slides gently stretch your shoulder joint while fully supporting the weight of your injured arm on the table.
- Sit with your injured arm next to a table. Use your opposite hand to lift your forearm and place it on a small folded towel on the table.
- Hold your injured wrist with your opposite hand.
- Slowly bend forward, sliding your forearm along the table until you feel a gentle stretch in your injured shoulder.
- Hold for two to three seconds; then slowly sit back up.
- Repeat 10 times, working up to three sets in a row.
Move 3: Dowel Exercises
Dowel exercises allow your uninjured shoulder to assist movement of your injured arm.
- Lie on your back holding one end of the dowel in each hand, resting it at your waist.
- Keeping your elbows straight, slowly raise your arms up toward the ceiling as far as you comfortably can.
- Slowly lower back down. Progress this exercise until you are able to reach the dowel fully overhead.
Move 4: Wall Walking
Wall walking improves your ability to raise your arm while in a standing position.
- Stand facing a wall.
- Place your fingers on the wall at waist-height.
- Slowly "walk" your fingers up the wall as high as possible until you feel a stretch in your shoulder.
- Hold for two to three seconds and then walk them back down.
- Repeat 10 times.
Read more: Exercises for Increased Shoulder Flexibility
2. Strengthening Exercises
Strengthening exercises can begin as early as three weeks after injury, depending on its severity.
Move 1: Submaximal Isometrics
Isometric exercises are the most basic form of strengthening after a humerus fracture.
- Stand facing a wall with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and fingers in a gentle fist.
- Place a pillow between your fist and the wall.
- Gently press your fist into the wall for two to three seconds. Repeat 10 times.
- Turn sideways with your injured arm next to the wall.
- Place the pillow between your elbow and the wall.
- Gently press your elbow sideways into the wall for two to three seconds and repeat 10 times.
Move 2: Dumbbell Raises
Progressive strengthening exercises typically begin between six to eight weeks after injury. Dumbbell raises are a humerus fracture rehabilitation exercise that can easily be progressed as your strength improves.
- Stand up tall and squeeze your shoulder blades together, holding a small dumbbell in your hand.
- Keeping your elbow straight, lift your arm up in front to shoulder-height.
- Hold for two to three seconds; then slowly lower back down. Repeat 10 times.
- Repeat this exercise lifting your arm out to the side, to shoulder-height.
Move 3: Resistance Band Rows
Resistance band exercises can be easily progressed as your strength improves by moving up color-coded levels.
- Secure one end of the band to a sturdy object, such as a doorknob, at waist-height.
- Hold the opposite end of the band in your hand with your elbow bent to 90 degrees.
- Keeping your forearm parallel to the ground, pull the band backward while squeezing your shoulder blade toward your spine.
- Hold for two to three seconds; then slowly return to the starting position.
- Perform 10 repetitions, working up to three sets in a row before increasing the resistance of the band.
Move 4: Resistance Band Rotation
Rotation of your arm toward your body and away from your body is also strengthened with resistance band exercises as part of your recovery plan.
- Keep the band secured at waist-height with your elbow bent to 90 degrees.
- Turn your body until your non-injured side is next to the door where the band is secured.
- Begin with your forearm touching your belly.
- Slowly rotate your forearm away from your body, against the resistance of the band. Keep your elbow tight by your side throughout the movement.
- Hold two to three seconds and then slowly return to the starting position.
- Repeat 10 times.
- Turn your body until your injured arm is next to the door.
- Begin with your forearm rotated away from your body, with your elbow tight by your side.
- Pull your forearm in toward your body until it reaches your belly.
- Hold two to three seconds; then relax. Repeat 10 times.
- Work up to three sets of 10 repetitions in each direction before increasing the resistance of your band.
- Deutsches Arzteblatt International: "The Treatment of Proximal Humeral Fracture in Adults"
- American Physical Therapy Association: "Physical Therapist's Guide to Proximal Humerus Fractures"
- Geriatric Orthopaedic Surgery & Rehabilitation: "Proximal Humerus Fractures: Evaluation and Management in the Elderly Patient"
- Mammoth Orthopedic Institute: "Rehabilitation Guidelines for Proximal Humerus Fracture (Non-Operative)"