Exercises to relieve shoulder arthritis pain

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Exercises to relieve shoulder arthritis pain

When you reach up to grab something off a shelf and your shoulder stiffens and hurts, no part of that feeling makes you want to move your shoulder more, right? But that’s exactly what needs to happen to help your shoulder work better and hurt less.

There are many different ways to shoulder arthritis, from osteoarthritis to rheumatoid arthritis and more. Regardless of the type of shoulder arthritis you have, your doctor will recommend shoulder exercises as an important part of your plan shoulder arthritis treatment.

This is what happens to your shoulder when you have arthritis and why exercise helps relieve pain and stiffness.

How does arthritis affect your shoulders?

Your shoulder is made up of three bones: your upper arm bone, your shoulder blade, and your collarbone. The ends of those bones, where they meet at a joint, are covered with articular cartilage, a slippery substance that cushions and protects the bones as you move.

Your shoulder has two separate joints: a larger ball and socket called the glenohumeral joint, where the top of your upper arm bone is the “ball” that moves against a rounded socket in your shoulder blade. The other, called the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, is located where the clavicle meets the shoulder blade. Both can be affected by arthritis.

Different types of shoulder arthritis

There are several types of shoulder arthritis that you should know about in order to know which treatment to follow with the best results.


In OA, the cartilage in the shoulder joint gradually wears away and the protective space between the bones decreases. Bone-on-bone rubbing and friction in the joint cause pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion. Everyday tasks like combing your hair or carrying a bag become more challenging and painful. The lost of range of motion in the shoulder it can also cause muscle spasms throughout the shoulder and neck, which can cause headaches.

Osteoarthritis usually affects people over 50 years of age and is more common in the acromioclavicular (AC) joint than in the glenohumeral shoulder joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis

With RA, the immune system mistakenly attacks a protective lining of the joint called the synovium and destroys the cartilage. Although RA tends to affect the smaller joints first (such as those in the hands and feet), symptoms can spread to both shoulders as the disease progresses.

post-traumatic arthritis

A shoulder injurysuch as a fracture or dislocation, can damage the cartilage or cause additional wear and tear, which can lead to arthritis.

Tear arthropathy

The rotator cuff is made up of tendons and muscles that wrap around the ball of the upper arm bone, keeping it centered in the shoulder socket. If one or more of these tendons are severely torn, it can cause the head of the upper arm to rub against other bones, damaging surfaces and leading to arthritis.

vascular necrosis

This is when bone tissue dies due to lack of blood supply. In the shoulder, blood flow to the upper bone head may be interrupted due to disease, injury, or other causes. Without a blood supply, the bone will slowly collapse, become uneven, and cause arthritis.

How Exercise Helps Shoulder Arthritis

Your shoulder is made to move; in fact, it has the most movement of any joint in the body. What is common to all types of shoulder arthritis is the possibility of losing range of motion.

And that’s the number one reason to exercise. The shoulder joint can become stiff and weak. If you keep it still, it gets harder, he explains. Gentle stretching exercises can help maintain your shoulder’s range of motion.

Strengthening exercises are also important. Keeping the muscles in and around the shoulder strong can give the joint more stability.

Precautions before exercising with shoulder arthritis

If you’re new to exercise, it’s always smart to talk to your doctor first. Your doctor or physical therapist can make sure the exercises are safe and help you gain mobility and strength without exacerbating inflammation or aggravating joint pain. If you have undergone shoulder surgeryget guidance from your doctor or physical therapist on which shoulder exercises are safe for you.

Here are some more tips to help protect your joints:

start slowly

Make it easier to exercise your joints if you haven’t been active in a while, experts say. If you push too hard and too fast, you can overload your muscles and make your joint pain worse. Go easy at first, then increase the length and intensity of your workout as you go.

move gently

Always warm up or stretch at the beginning of each exercise activity and do it again at the end. Don’t force any stretches. Don’t let someone else push on your shoulder to help you stretch further because that can trigger a flare. Instead, keep your movements slow and easy. Push to the point where you feel a good stretch without pain. With strength training, you start with fewer reps (or less weight) and gradually work your way up.

Do a little every day

If you have an RA flare-up or increased OA pain, you should still stay active. A simple stretch can lessen some of the pain. Do short stretching sessions more often, instead of skipping a few days and then doing a longer workout. Frequency is important to maintain range of motion around the shoulder joint.

Stop if your shoulder (or anything else) hurts.

Listen to the pain. Take a break when your joint starts to hurt. If you feel any new joint pain, it’s time to stop. Talk to your doctor about what pain is normal and when it’s a sign of something more serious.

Exercises to help relieve shoulder arthritis pain

Experts recommend the following exercises for shoulders:

shoulder pendulum exercise for arthritis

shoulder arthritis shoulder rotation

Stretches the outer shoulder and rotator cuff.

  • Stand next to a table or counter.
  • Lean forward and place one hand on the table for support. Let your other arm hang freely by your side.
  • Gently swing your arm back and forth 10 times.
  • Gently move your arm from side to side 10 times. Gently swing your arm in a circle 10 times.
  • Repeat with the other arm. Repeat the entire sequence one more time.
  • Tip: Don’t round your back or lock your knees.

cross arm stretch

shoulder arthritis cross arm stretch

Stretch the back of your shoulder.

  • Stand up straight, with your shoulders relaxed.
  • Gently pull one arm across your chest as far as is comfortable, holding onto the upper arm.
  • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, then relax for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other arm.
  • Repeat the sequence three more times.
  • Tip: Don’t pull or put pressure on your elbow.

Passive internal rotation to relieve shoulder arthritis

internal shoulder stretch

Stretch the front of your shoulder.

  • Get a lightweight stick, such as a yardstick, wooden block, or cane.
  • Hold the stick behind your back with one hand and lightly hold the other end of the stick with the other hand.
  • Pull the stick horizontally so that you feel a pull in the front of your shoulder without pain.
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds, then relax for 30 seconds. Repeat in the other side.
  • Repeat the sequence three more times.
  • Tip: Don’t lean or twist to the side as you pull on the stick.

passive external rotation

passive shoulder external rotation

Stretch the back of your shoulder.

  • Get a lightweight stick, such as a yardstick, wooden block, or cane.
  • Hold the stick in one hand and grab the other end of the stick with the other hand (so the stick is horizontal in front of you).
  • keep the shoulder elbow that is stretching against the side of your body and push the stick horizontally so that you feel a pull on the back of your shoulder without pain.
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds, then relax for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat in the other side.
  • Repeat the sequence three more times.
  • Tip: Keep your hips facing forward and don’t twist.

Wall climbing exercise

wall climbing shoulder arthritis

Improve range of motion and strengthen shoulder muscles.

  • Stand facing a wall, an arm’s length away, so your fingers can touch it.
  • With your affected arm, slowly drag your fingers up the wall as high as you can comfortably reach. (Keep your shoulder down, without shrugging toward your ear.)
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds; then crawl down.
  • Repeat one or two more times, trying to get higher and higher.
  • Tip: If you feel a twinge of pain or your shoulder tightens as you drag your fingers up, pause for a second and focus on relaxing your shoulder muscle. You may be able to go a little higher once your shoulder is relaxed. If you feel a twinge again, you have reached your full range of motion.

Exercise push the wall or wall push up

wall push ups for shoulder arthritis

Strengthens the muscles of the shoulders, arms and chest.

  • Stand facing the wall, arms straight and hands flat against it.
  • Place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and tighten your stomach muscles.
  • Keeping your feet flat on the ground, bend your elbows and open your chest toward the wall.
  • Lower your upper body toward the wall in a slow, controlled motion. Your shoulder blades will meet a little in the back. Hold for a second.
  • Keeping your hands flat against the wall, slowly push yourself back until your arms are straight.
  • Repeat 8 times; and gradually increase to more repetitions.
  • Tip: Make sure your fingers aren’t curled into the wall.
  • Keeping them flat and pushing hard against the wall fully engages your shoulder, arm, and chest muscles.

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