Top 5 Exercises to Reduce Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is extremely common. It accounts for around 2.4% of all GP consultations, and there are roughly 360 million GP appointments per annum in the UK! That equates to overy 8,000,000 shoulder consultations with GPs annually *according to research. That’s a lot of shoulder injuries and shoulder pain.

Over the last twenty years, we’ve seen a huge increase in shoulder pains. In our opinion, shoulder pain is the third most common musculoskeletal problem, and more common than knee pain. Shoulder pain can be caused by all kinds of problems, ranging from joint and muscle pain, to strains and tears, to referred pain from the neck, heart and even the gallbladder (although not common).

We see hundreds of people every week see our physio team with shoulder pain, it’s really crazy how common it is. And the problem with shoulder pain is that it’s both a very complex joint, and typically takes months to get better.

Most shoulder pain is caused by something called shoulder impingement (recently this has been called subacromial pain syndrome, or rotator cuff related shoulder pain), although most consultants still refer to the term “impingement” as it’s easier to explain the pathology to patients. In a very simplistic sense, the rotator cuff muscle becomes impinged or pinched under the acromion in the shoulder. This can cause rubbing or inflammation on the tendon, and in some cases, cause a degenerative rotator cuff tear.

If you have shoulder pain, see our Surrey Physio team as soon as possible. Get started on treatment quickly. If things are not improving after about 6 sessions, then we’ll consider a steroid injection also done by one of our team. At the time of writing, a steroid injection costs £120.00 including the consultation, but check our price page for up-to-date pricing.

Certain sports seem to be particularly common for aggravating the shoulder. Sports such as tennis, golf, rugby and weightlifting seem to be the most common that we see at Surrey Physio. As you may be aware, we've looked after some of the UK's top tennis players, weightlifters, and in 2022 the recent former England Men's Rugby Captain (who came to see us with shoulder pain). We really do help with shoulder pain, rehab and recovery.

However, let’s look at the natural ways you can reduce your shoulder pain:

1. Ice: Place an ice bag or pack of frozen peas (make sure you wrap it in a thin towel) over the tip of your shoulder. Place it there for around ten minutes, twice per day.

2. Sleeping position: sleeping is a nightmare for shoulder pain sufferers. Lying on your comfortable side (i.e. the non-affected shoulder), place a folded pillow under your sore arm. You can also place a pillow behind your back to help alert you if you try to turn over on to your bad shoulder in the night.

3. 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 this exercise ten times, three times per day.

4. Passive Flexion: 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 this exercise ten times, three times per day.

5. 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. Most people find this exercise helps a lot, but make sure you let the shoulder hang and don’t make it too active, let is move on its own momentum. Repeat for one minute three times per day.

Shoulder pain is a big problem, a common issue, and it can be helped. Yes, it takes time, but with physiotherapy, exercises and persistence (and occasionally a steroid injection), it can be significantly improved.

(Physios and 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).