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12 Stretches & Exercises for Shoulder Tendonitis

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT November 21, 2020 0 Comments

shoulder stretch strap

Shoulder tendonitis is a very common overuse injury, often caused by repetitive overhead or overreaching arm motions. Performing the right exercise for shoulder tendonitis is important during recovery; since these muscles are essential for everyday function. Start improving your shoulder pain today with these movements that focus on stretching the range of motion and strengthening the shoulder joint.

Shoulder Stretches for Tendonitis

If you’re suffering from shoulder pain, you’re likely avoiding a lot of normal movements; which leads to stiffness in the shoulder joint. Stretching can loosen and restore range of motion; while preventing frozen shoulder or even a rotator cuff tear.

Check out these stretches from Physical Therapist, Dr. Michael White:

1. Supine External Rotation Stretch

Lying on your back with the arms abducted to 90 degrees and elbows bent to 90 degrees. With the palms facing down toward your feet, let the back of the hands fall back toward the floor until a stretch is felt in the shoulders and/or chest- touching the floor if possible. This will stretch the internal rotators and pec muscles.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets. To deepen the stretch, you can also try this stretch, or other variations, on a foam roller

Other Shoulder Tendonitis Treatments

2. Internal Rotation Stretch

Make sure to start slowly and keep excellent posture. Don’t let the shoulder (and shoulder blade) you’re stretching fall forward or slouch.

Grab a stretch strap or towel to get started. Place the arm you want to stretch behind your back with the palm facing away from you and grab the end of the strap. Then, the top of the strap will go over your opposite shoulder with your other hand. Next, use the upper hand to guide the lower hand up the middle of the back as high as it can go.

Hold for 30+ seconds for 2-3 sets. The goal is to be able to reach the mid-back and shoulder blades with this stretch. 

3. Quadruped Shoulder Flexion Stretch

This is one of many variations for stretching the shoulders into flexion. Start on your hands and knees with both hands directly under your shoulders. Then, simply shift your butt back toward your feels as you bring your chest closer to your thighs and the ground. Continue moving until you feel a strong stretch in the shoulders and/or upper back.

Hold for 30+ seconds for up to 3 sets. Alternatively, you can place your hands on an exercise ball to get a deeper stretch (when tolerated). You can also rotate the spine to one side to move the shoulder into more of an abduction stretch as well.

4. Cross Body Stretch

Be extra gentle with any overpressure to prevent aggravating the front of the shoulder, or rotator cuff, where inflamed tissues can get pinched. Simply bring the injured arm across your body at chest height. Use opposite hand to guide the upper arm and bring your elbow toward the opposite shoulder. Stop when you feel a strong stretch in the back of the shoulder.

Hold for 30-45 seconds for up to 3 sets on each arm.

Upper Body Stretches

The neck, shoulder blades, and upper back are intricately connected and it’s common for stiffness and pain to be present in these secondary areas with shoulder pain. Try these stretches for relief.

5. Neck release

Sit in a comfortable chair to stretch the neck. Bring your left ear toward the left shoulder as you bend your neck sideways. Keep the right shoulder blade down and relaxed, extend the right arm out to the side (and slightly back) to deepen the stretch. You will feel a strong stretch in the right side between the top of your shoulder and side of the neck. Switch to stretch the left side.

Hold 30+ seconds for up to 4 sets on each side. For an even deeper stretch, use your opposite hand for overpressure.

6. Shoulder Rolls/Shrugs

Simply, lift both shoulders towards the ears, roll them back and drop them down as low as possible. Continue this circular motion in one direction before switching.

Repeat for 20 repetitions in each direction.

7. Shoulder Pulley

A shoulder pulley is a tool commonly used in physical therapy to stretch the shoulder or rotator cuff while focusing on good upper body mechanics. Grab a pulley and secure it over a door. Sit directly under the door in a chair with one handle in each hand to get started. You can decide if your palms face forward or toward each other. Then, simply alternate lifting one arm up at a time as high as is tolerated. As your arm rises, make sure you keep your upper shoulder and neck low and away from the ear.

Hold for 5-10 seconds at the top of each repetition for up to 20 reps on each arm. You can experiment with different positions for lifting the arm- such as at a diagonal or straight out to the side.

8. Quadruped Thoracic Rotation

Start on your hands and knees with the hands directly under the shoulders. Then, flex the hips as you bring your butt down toward your heels (they don’t need to touch) to lock the lower spine into place. Then place one hand behind your head with the elbow bent to 90 degrees. Keeping the opposite hand on the ground, rotate the spine as you point the elbow up toward the ceiling. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Repeat for 8-10 repetitions on each side. Keep the motion slow and controlled. You can even hold at the top of each move. You should feel a stretch in the upper back and be able to rotate deeper with each rep.

Shoulder Strengthening Exercises

As your shoulder range of motion improves, it's time to start strengthening exercises that focus on the rotator cuff, shoulder blades, and upper back. Check out the stretches in our video below from Physical Therapist, Dr. Michael White.

When trying a new exercise, always start slowly and see how it feels before progressing further.

9. Isometric External Rotation

Use your opposite hand for resistance, keep the elbow of your injured shoulder bent to 90 degrees and tucked into your side. Then, place the palm of your opposite hand against the back of your hand. Gently pull the injured arm inward as if you were going to move it to your belly button. Match pressure with your arm so no movement occurs while activating the shoulder muscles.

Hold each rep for 2-5 seconds. Repeat 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets. You will feel this in the back of the shoulder. Relax the neck.

10. Resisted External & Internal Rotation

Grab a light to medium resistance band for this one.

External Rotation

Simply hold the band with the palms facing up, elbow bent, and hands shoulder width apart. Then, rotate the shoulders as you pull the hands away from each other and pinch the shoulder blades together. Move in a range that is comfortable for you.

Internal Rotation

Secure the band to a door at the level of your navel and face the band sideways. Place the band in the arm closer to the band with the elbow bent again, this time pull across the body toward your belly button. Keep the elbow tucked into your side and relax the neck throughout.

Repeat each for 10-15 repetitions for 2-3 sets

11. Resisted Shoulder Flexion & Abduction

Start with a light to medium resistance band. Hold the band about 3 feet apart in both hands.

Flexion

Hold the band about 3 feet apart in both hands. Place the hand you will not be moving on the same hip for stability. Then, raise the opposite shoulder forward and straight up toward the ceiling as high as possible, before returning to the starting position.

Abduction

Follow the same steps for the flexion exercise, but rest you hand on the opposite hip. Then, lift the shoulder straight out to the side as high as possible.

Repeat each for 10 repetitions for 2-3 sets on each leg. Take extra care with form for shoulder abduction to prevent aggravation.

12. Quadruped Lateral Taps

This is a higher level exercise that incorporates core and shoulder stability into the move. Get on your hands and knees with a resistance band in both hands that are directly under the shoulders. While keeping good posture in the spine, lift one hand off the ground and move it sideways away from your body as far as you can. Alternate tapping each side.

Repeat for 10+ repetitions on each arm for 2-3 sets.

How Frequently Should I Exercise?

How often you complete exercises is dependent on the stage of your shoulder injury.

  • Early Stage of recovery will consist of 1 to 3 sessions of stretching per day paired with pain management techniques.
  • As pain decreases, you’ll focus on restoring function and strength. Aim to exercise your shoulders 3 to 5 times per week.
  • As you restore full function, the ultimate goal is to keep up with a maintenance program 2 to 3 times per week.

How to Manage Shoulder Pain from Tendonitis

Exercises to Avoid with Shoulder Pain

Particular exercises can aggravate the shoulder joint and lead to a rotator cuff tear, especially in the beginning stages of healing. Here are exercises you should avoid with your shoulder injury:

  • Repetitive overhead motion (i.e. throwing and swimming)
  • Heavy weight lifting; particularly pull downs or overhead presses
  • Upright rows or any arm elevation with the thumbs facing downward
  • Any other moves that are painful, aggravating, and cause shoulder impingement

Do I have a Shoulder Impingement?

Shoulder Tendinitis Tips

Follow these simple tips to get the most out of your shoulder exercise routine:

  1. Ensure proper warm up and cool down. Start and end with gentle stretching and moves that promote circulation to injured stiff areas. 
  2. Start slowly and keep the stretching exercises as passive as possible.
  3. Maintain good form and posture. Shoulders back, neck relaxed, and chin tucked to prevent pinching irritated tissues and promote balance. 
  4. Use in conjunction with other pain relief remedies such as ice, heat, TENs, and massage.
  5. Stay consistent. Regular stretching and strengthening for the shoulder will ensure the best possible function and pain relief.
  6. Consult a physical therapist. If you’re not sure where to start or want to maximize your recovery results, consider a round of physical therapy. They will help you understand your injury and create a personalized treatment program.

Minimizing Your Shoulder Pain

Shoulder pain is no fun. It can affect your sleep and ability to do the things you love. Having a consistent exercise program that appropriately addresses pain, flexibility, and strength will help you get on the road to recovery. If your symptoms worsen or don’t seem to be getting better, make sure to get in touch with your doctor for healthcare advice as soon as possible.

Shoulder Tendonitis Products

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Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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