Top 5 Exercises for a Stiff Shoulder

If you're one of the many people dealing with a stiff shoulder, you're not alone. A stiff shoulder is a common issue that can negatively affect your daily life. It can make it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as reaching for items above your head, lifting heavy objects, or putting on a shirt. Even sleeping is affected. Luckily, there are things you can do to help relieve the discomfort and stiffness of a stiff shoulder.

First, it’s important to understand what causes a stiff shoulder. One of the most common causes is a condition called shoulder impingement (sometimes known as subacromial pain syndrome, or even rotator cuff related shoulder pain). This is often caused by underlying osteoarthritis at a small joint in the shoulder known as the AC joint. The other fairly common cause of shoulder stiffness is frozen shoulder, a very painful condition that significantly restricts shoulder mobility.

Some therapists also believe that posture can play an important role. Sitting in one position for too long or slouching can put extra strain on the shoulder joints and muscles, leading to stiffness and pain. Other causes include aging, injury, or a degenerative condition like arthritis.

The good news is that this is a condition that we help daily. The bad news is, it can take a long time, however, they almost always make a full recovery under the care of a physio or osteopath. If you are starting to get shoulder stiffness, come in as soon as possible to see one of our team at Surrey Physio. The longer you leave it, the stiffer it gets, and this makes rehab even harder.

Our Top 5 Exercises for a Stiff Shoulder

1. Rock the baby: Keep your stronger arm under your painful arm, so that your stronger arm is supporting it. Gently rock your arm to one side, and then the other, as if you were rocking a baby. This is an excellent mobility exercise for stiff and painful shoulders. Repeat 10 times.

2. Passive Flexion Arm Lift (Half way): Use your good arm to lift your painful arm (which should stay relaxed). Take your arm up slowly and gently, and do not take it above your head. Stop the lift when you feel pain, and slowly lower the arm. This exercise will help improve your shoulder mobility. Repeat 10 times.

3. Pendulum: Lean over holding on to a chair or table, let your arm hang down by your side, and swing your arm gently in circles. Try to let momentum and gravity move your arm. Go anti-clockwise and clockwise. This exercise is a great way to passively mobilise a stiff shoulder. Do 10 circles in each direction.

4. Bra Strap Exercise: Use your comfortable arm to move your sore arm behind your back, as if you were reaching between your shoulder blades, but only go as far as feels comfortable. Try to keep your sore arm as relaxed as possible. You should feel a gentle pulling at the front of your shoulder. Sometimes if your shoulder is sore this exercise can be uncomfortable, but it does increase the mobility of your shoulder. Repeat 10 times.

5. Pec Stretch. This is a great exercise for loosening up your shoulder muscles and improving your posture. Bend your elbow 90 degrees, and rest your forearm against a door frame or wall, with your fingers pointing towards the ceiling. Lean forwards creating a stretch across your upper arm, front shoulder and slightly into your chest. This exercise stretches the pectoral muscle. Hold for a few seconds, then relax your arms. Repeat 10 times.

These five exercises are a great way to help relieve stiff shoulders. Remember to take it slow and be gentle with your movements. If you’re still feeling pain after doing these exercises, be sure to talk to your physio or osteopath for more advice.

(Therapists: these videos are provided by Rehab My Patient – the best exercise prescription software for therapists to prescribe exercises Patients: if you are a patient needing advice, call Surrey Physio to book a telephone/video consultation with one of our expert physios or osteopaths, or book in face-to-face for an appointment. You can call us on 0208 685 6930 or book online by clicking the link at the top of the page).