After a shoulder dislocation, exercise is a great place to get started with the recovery process. Shoulder dislocation most often requires a period of immobilization to allow the over-stretched tissues of the shoulder joint to heal and resume some semblance of stability. If severe enough, when tears or extreme instability is evident, surgery may be required too. Regardless, at some point you will want to start shoulder exercises to for the best possible outcomes. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of exercise and find a list of movements to try after a shoulder dislocation.
There is a delicate balance with post-injury treatment that needs to be found after a shoulder dislocation. Initially, the shoulder will be swollen, sore, and most likely feeling unstable due to overstretching of the joint capsule, muscles, and local ligaments. Thus, some downtime is required to allow restoration of the shoulder’s innate stability, although it will most likely not be as stable as it was before. On the other hand, too much rest can actually have the opposite effect-leading to too much stiffness and increasing your risk of a frozen shoulder. When the time is right, depending on the severity and whether you had surgery, here are some of the great benefits of shoulder movement.
This is dependent on your specific injury and symptoms. Ultimately, with moderate to severe cases it’s important to be cleared by your doctor first before starting any type of exercise. If your shoulder is managed conservatively, you can expect to get started within a few days or weeks once your symptoms have started decreasing.
If you end up needing surgery due to an unstable shoulder, your surgeon will provide a specific protocol to follow based on your shoulder’s specific needs. In general, you can start assisted shoulder range of motion around 3 to 4 weeks postoperatively with the help of a physical therapist (while still wearing the sling most of the day).
Exercises will include passive range of motion and gradual progression to more active and bigger ranges as tissues heal and your pain tolerance improves. Followed by dynamic shoulder strengthening exercises that build muscle and coordination within a functional range of motion.
This is the most basic exercise you can do with your shoulder once you are cleared to have your shoulder out of the sling. It is designed to simply get your shoulder used to moving without pain while promoting relaxation and reducing stiffness.
Purchasing a cost efficient shoulder pulley is a great rehab tool for any type of shoulder injury. It’s one of the first ways you can safely move your shoulder with minimal pain. You simply use your opposite hand to passively move the bad shoulder. With time, you can gradually progress to a more active range.
Isometric exercise is defined as exercise that works a specific muscle group without any actual movement. This is a perfect starting point for a recovering dislocated shoulder, since you can keep local muscles active while still in a sling and allowing appropriate rest time. That way the transition to more active motion will be easier when you’re ready.
When the shoulder feels weak and active or full shoulder range of motion is not allowed, once again isometric exercises for rotation are a great starting option. Over time, you can increase your pressure and eventually start using resistance bands when you are cleared to do more with your arm actively. These basic exercises target some of the key rotator cuff muscles.
Make sure to talk to your sports medicine doctor about any restrictions on muscle use if you've had surgery first. For example, surgery following anterior shoulder dislocation (the most common type) often involves eternal rotation restrictions for the first 4 to 6 weeks.
Once you are cleared to increase your shoulder range of motion, there are several different ways outside of using a pulley that you can utilize to stretch the shoulder. This exercise is designed to increase shoulder flexion without having to fully activate the muscles in the arms that could cause pain.
You can start this exercise without resistance and then gradually progress to use of a band. The strength and coordination of the scapula, or shoulder blade, muscles play an important role in shoulder balance and function. This is a great one to get started with and build from there.
These are all great exercises for getting started in the first few weeks of recovery. Eventually, you will want to progress to more functional movements. This should include full active shoulder range of motion, weighted or resistance based moves (rows, biceps curls, tricep curls, side raises, etc.), and scapular exercises (prone supermans, planks, etc.).
Throughout the entire shoulder recovery process, there is a high chance that you will have questions and feel unsure about what you should be doing. This is where scheduling physical therapy can make a big difference. They can perform an in-depth assessment to help you stay on track and heal with optimal pain relief. Plus, they can help you address any underlying weakness or imbalances that could lead to future shoulder issues or the onset of chronic dislocations. They are your best guide for giving you the confidence for a complete recovery, both conservatively and after undergoing surgery.
It’s important to start shoulder exercises as soon as your shoulder is ready after a dislocation. This makes for a better road to recovery with fewer complications in the future. The biggest goal is to restore shoulder function with minimal symptoms so that you can get back to your life without any hiccups, whether that’s being able to brush your hair or get back to contact sports.
Talk to your healthcare provider for further medical advice if your symptoms get worse or you experience continual sensations of instability in the shoulder.