Shoulder Surgery Exercises

By S.F. Heron
Physical rehabilitation from shoulder surgery requires disciplined exercise and patience.
Physical rehabilitation from shoulder surgery requires disciplined exercise and patience.

Shoulder surgery occurs after an extreme injury to one of the ligaments, tendons or bones in the muscle joint. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, the shoulder joint can move in a larger range of motion than any other joint in the body. Wide range of motion invites injury when individuals fall on the shoulder or don't prepare for activity with exercise and stretching. Standard shoulder surgery exercises exist to help regain range of motion. Any recuperative physical therapy exercises after surgery should be attempted only on the advice of your surgeon.

Take it Slow

Grabbing a golf club as soon as the pain seems to be gone will invite additional pain, swelling and discomfort. Shoulder surgery exercises are graduated to allow your shoulder to strengthen a little at a time. Follow your planned exercise regimen exactly. Physical therapists and surgeons now believe that complete immobility after shoulder surgery limits range of motion and recovery. Expect to be performing simple shoulder exercises very soon after surgery. You won't be doing any strengthening exercises for many weeks when your physical therapist clears you for weight training. See the Resources section below for a list of shoulder surgery exercises. Always consult with your therapist and doctor before performing any exercises after surgery.

Walk the Wall

A very standard and simple exercise involves walking the wall with the fingers. Stand facing a wall and extend one arm forward. Your posture should be straight, with the body aligned from neck to hips. Walk your fingers up the wall like a spider, stepping forward as needed to reach the highest height and hold for 10 seconds. Walk your fingers back down again. Your arm should be straight during this exercise and no strain should be placed on the shoulder joint. If you feel pain, stop immediately and contact your doctor. Try for three to five exercises per arm multiple times each day.


Increase range of motion with a simple pendulum swing. Remember that most doctors will absolutely prohibit you from lifting your arm directly sideways for some time after surgery. Be careful performing these pendulum swings to prevent injury. Grab a chair and place it in a clear area of the floor. Lean over and place your uninjured hand on the chair with your elbow straight. Let the arm on the injured shoulder side hang freely in the space next to the chair. Move the body slightly to rotate the arm at the joint clockwise and counterclockwise for 10 repetitions in each direction. Complete this exercise three times each day.

Photo Credits

  • Shoulder stretch as part of a Thai body massage. image by Deborah Benbrook from
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