Achy, Painful Shoulder? Here are 5 PT-Approved Exercises to Help

One of the most common questions a physical therapist gets is simply, “What are some stretches for shoulder pain?” Now, more than ever, shoulder pain is a leading complaint among physical therapy patients. But why the sudden increase in shoulder pain symptoms? The answer is surprisingly simple. For many workers across the United States, working from home is the new normal. Millions of people suddenly found themselves having to cobble together makeshift workstations and creating desks out of kitchen tables. However, we’re now finding out that many of these temporary solutions are lasting a lot longer than we thought they would need to. Since these solutions are far less ergonomically efficient than most typical “in-office” work setups, many patients are experiencing pain from their work-from-home layout.

Statistics show that up to 34% of people will experience new shoulder pain because the setup of the home office or working area isn’t up to par. These setups make it easy for people to accidentally slip into bad habits like slouching at the computer or poor posture while typing. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain and think it may have something to do with your work environment, start at the root up the problem and make sure your desk or work area is up to the ergonomic code.

Techniques to improve your at-home work posture include:

  • Sit with proper lumbar (lower back) support
  • Keep your upper back against the backrest of your chair
  • Make sure your seat height is such that your wrists are level with your keyboard while typing at a computer (this way your elbows are at 90 degrees)
  • Ensure your computer screen is leveled or at 30 degrees down from your line of sight

Posture is just one problem that could contribute to your shoulder pain. If you come to see a physical therapist then they can assess the underlying cause of your shoulder pain. A trained physical therapist will have the ability to identify underlying anomalies that could be causing stress in your shoulder area. Their assessment will allow them to act accordingly and curate a plan that is best for you.

Other causes of shoulder and arm pain include but are not limited to:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Biceps tendonitis
  • Rotator cuff tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis)
  • Pain originating in the neck

It is noted that you should beware of the following signs of shoulder pain. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should call your doctor immediately and see if they offer in-person or virtual visits. Don’t wait too long, as this may worsen the underlying problem of the pain. Symptoms may include:

  • Inability to use the shoulder or move your arm away from your body
  • Intense, even excruciating, pain
  • Sudden swelling
  • Difficulty sleeping at night

If you’re in pain and don’t want to wait weeks to get in and see your primary care physician, you can schedule an appointment with a physical therapist today – no referral needed. After an initial evaluation and assessment of the pain, your physical therapist may need to measure your range of motion and strength while monitoring the quality of the shoulder motion. Depending on the findings, you may be prescribed different shoulder-strengthening and/or mobility exercises, which may be combined with manual therapy.

However, if you are not comfortable leaving the safety of your home due to the current circumstances that the world is currently under, we want to offer you 5 of some of the most effective exercises and stretches to relieve shoulder and arm pain at home. This includes the following:

Door stretch – Stand with your palm against a door frame and your elbow bent at 90 degrees. Turn your body away from the hand, allowing the shoulder to come forward. Hold for 30 seconds. Relax the shoulder and repeat 2-3 times.

Pendulum – To do the pendulum exercise, start by leaning over and supporting your non-injured arm with a table or chair. Allow the sore arm to dangle straight down and then draw circles in the air. The circles should start out small but gradually grow, and you should also reverse direction periodically. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times throughout the day.

Arm across the chest – To do this stretch, hold your right hand out in front of your body, keeping it near the waist. Then reach the left hand behind the elbow while pulling the right arm to the left and across the chest. Lower the arm until the pain lessens. Hold in this position for 30 to 50 seconds and then release. Repeat this stretch 3 to 5 times.

Seated triceps stretch – Keeping your shoulders down and back, lift your right elbow up toward the ceiling to the point of tightness. Feel the stretch in the back of your upper right arm and shoulder. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Return to the starting position. Do this 2-4 times.

Neck release – While sitting up straight, slowly tilt the chin toward the chest until the stretch can be felt in the back of the neck. Then lean your head toward the left to stretch the right shoulder, or conversely lean to the right to stretch the left shoulder. The stretch should be held for a minute on each side. Try breathing deeply to help relax and maximize the stretch.


It’s important to note – while getting your workplace properly set up is a huge step in the right direction, the most important thing is to simply keep moving. Movement is massively important to your body and body systems and higher levels of activity will drastically increase the chances of a better clinical outcome. Standing up to stretch/move at least hourly will significantly improve your aches and pains associated with prolonged working positions at home. Also remember that all shoulder pain is different – listen to your body, and if your shoulder pain seems significant or stops you from continuing your daily activities as normal, consult a physical therapist to get a proper diagnosis.

If you’re experiencing pain after performing these exercises, or if your pain levels don’t progressively improve after about 2 weeks, you should consider talking to a physical therapist about your pain. Our physical therapists are trained to use manual therapy and pain neuroscience education, along with a custom exercise plan, to help reduce your pain.

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