Physical Therapy for Shoulder Pain

Physical Therapy (PT) interventions are commonly used to treat or minimize chronic pain in shoulder muscles. Physical Therapy aims at promoting shoulder’s easy, free movement. Based on the pain severity, a pain management specialist may prescribe either passive or active therapy, which includes manual therapies, heat/ice packs, electrical stimulation and dry needling. The most prescribed active physical therapy interventions for shoulder pain include movement based activities (stretching and range of motion exercises), strengthening exercises and pain relief exercises.

The common goals for shoulder pain therapy are reducing pain level by targeting the muscles associated with shoulder, helping the affected muscles relax and boosting pain perception in the patient. After the first week of PT, one should notice an improvement in his condition. Typically, PT for shoulder pain lasts about four to eight weeks.

How does physical therapy for shoulder pain work?

Pinching of the Rotator Cuff, Frozen Shoulder, Biceps Tendons, Shoulder Bursitis, poor sitting posture or falling on an outstretched arm are the common causes of chronic shoulder pain. Physical therapy may also be recommended after a shoulder surgery to promote better mobility.

Since the shoulder is made up of the Humerus (arm bone), the Scapula (shoulder blade) and the Clavicle (collar bone), a range of shoulder exercises can be prescribed to help improve the range of motion and improve the strength of shoulder muscles. At times, ice/heat and electrical nerve or muscle stimulation are included in an individual’s PT plan to eliminate or minimize the shoulder pain.

Commonly prescribed exercises for shoulder pain

Since the rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder and allows it to move, impingements and tears in it lead to pinching and swelling in the shoulder. Stretching exercises such as Pendulum, Sleeper Stretch, Crossover Arm Stretch, Passive (Internal/External Stretch), Standing Row, Elbow Flexion are commonly prescribed to treat these problems.

Once the swelling goes down to the patient’s arm, exercises such as Doorway Stretch, Side-Lying External Rotation, High-to-low Rows, Reverse Fly and Lawn Mower Pull can prevent issues such as Frozen Shoulder or loss of range of motion.