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Best Shoulder Impingement Exercises

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT December 26, 2019 0 Comments

Shoulder impingement syndrome can be frustrating and make you feel stuck in your exercise routine and daily activities. It can be hard to figure out what exactly you can do without causing further injury or shoulder pain and instead promote healing. Keep reading to learn the best shoulder impingement exercises and what symptoms to look out for that indicate you need to make an adjustment.

Shoulder Impingement Overview

Can You Exercise with Shoulder Impingement Symptoms?

Yes, the right exercises are highly encouraged to promote better shoulder health and healing. Although some exercises should be avoided, depending on the severity of the injury and your specific symptoms (noted below). Learn which exercises to do and avoid while recovering from shoulder impingement.

Strengthening Exercises for Shoulder Impingement

Resistance Band Rows

You can do this exercise in long sitting or standing while hinged forward at the hips. Regardless, you will put the center of band under both your feet near the balls of your feet. They will act as an anchor for your arm movement. Assume an upright position (shoulders back, head high, no slouching). If you are doing it in standing, try to get your entire spine parallel to the floor (or at least close). With your arms resting at your side and elbows bent, you will then squeeze the shoulder blades together as you pull your elbows back. Imagine there is a quarter between your shoulder blades that you are trying to pin there as you squeeze. Focus on keeping the neck relaxed and the movement controlled.

Complete 20 repetitions for 3 total sets. If you lose form or experience pain, modify the resistance or stop and rest before continuing.

Internal Rotation

Stand or sit with a band secured at your side (shut in a door or tied around something sturdy). You will be using the arm that is closest to the band. Secure the band in your grip with your upper arm resting at your side,elbow bent at about 90 degrees, and thumb facing up toward the ceiling. You will then simply rotate the arm internally, bringing the palm of your hand toward your stomach. The movement should be small and controlled. It is highly recommended to place a small towel roll between your side and elbow to make sure you are only moving from the shoulder.

Start with 10-15 repetitions, for 2-3 sets. Increase reps and resistance as tolerated. Stop if you feel significant pain or your neck starts to tense up.

External Rotation

Set your resistance band up the same way as internal rotation (above). This time, the arm you will be using should be opposite of the band. Again, consider using a towel roll at your side to make sure you are keeping good form throughout. If the towel drops, then you are moving your upper arm too much. The elbow will be bent and thumb pointing up again. This time, the small rotational movement will be externally. Bring the back of your hand outward and away from your body. Don’t let your wrist extend or neck tense up.

Start with 10-15 repetitions, for 2-3 sets. Increase resistance and reps when you feel ready. This move tends to result in rapid fatigue and can quickly lead to pain. Thus, be careful and pay attention to how you are feeling to gain benefits from this exercise.

Lower Trapezius Y Raise

Lie on your stomach with the arms out in front of you in the shape of a “Y.” Then, focus on engaging the shoulder blades (as if you were going to pinch them together) as you gently lift your arms off the floor a couple of inches. The movement should be small and the neck should stay relaxed. To progress, allow the upper back to extend as you lift (as the video shows).

Hold 5 seconds for 10 repetitions, for 2-3 sets. This is a high level exercise for a new shoulder injury so proceed with caution. You can modify to a “T” position to start or simply complete shoulder blade squeezes with your arms at your side.

Isometric Shoulder Abduction

Stand with the side of the shoulder you will be using facing the wall. With your arm at your side and the elbow bent, place a folded towel or pillow between your elbow and the wall. You will then press your elbow into the towel and wall (as if you were going to raise your arm out to the side). Gauge how hard you can push based on what you can tolerate without pain or feeling tense in the neck and back. This is a great way to build shoulder abduction strength without actually doing the movement (a notoriously painful one).

Hold for 3-5 seconds for 10 repetitions, 2-3 sets. Build the amount of tension and repetitions as possible.

Shoulder Blade Exercises

Poor shoulder blade strength and coordination play a large role in shoulder health. Outside of addressing the rotator cuff muscles (as described above), a good upper back program can also help in the healing process. For a full resource on upper back exercises that focus on scapular strength, look below. Make sure to keep your specific symptoms in mind to decide what is appropriate for you.

Best Exercises for Upper Back Pain

Benefits of Exercise for Shoulder Impingement Syndrome

Proper shoulder impingement exercises will provide better circulation to injured areas. They will help restore muscular and postural balance to the rotator cuff and entire shoulder girdle. Ultimately, this will help increase the subacromial space that is causing irritation to local tissues, such as the rotator cuff and bursa (cushions built into the shoulder to minimize friction with movement). Good shoulder joint biomechanics will take pressure of injured tissues and allow them to heal and move properly.

Exercise Tips

Here are some simple tips to keep in mind when exercising the shoulder:

  • Choose light exercises that allow the neck and bigger shoulder muscles to stay relaxed (to focus more specifically on the rotator cuff and shoulder blades).
  • Focus on keeping good posture to decrease strain and pinching felt in the shoulder.
  • Start slow and controlled with light weights and build as tolerated when symptoms improve.
  • Start with exercises that keep your arms close to your side and range of motion small. Progress to higher elevation of the arms only as tolerated
  • Listen to your symptoms to decide if you are on track. Mild muscle soreness is expected. However, onset of moderate to severe symptoms, particularly at the original area of pain, should be noted and exercise should be adjusted.

Shoulder Impingement Treatment

Shoulder Impingement Stretches

Exercises to Avoid

Activities that involve overhead arm movements, like throwing a ball or swimming, can be hard on the shoulders and cause overuse when you’re trying to recover. Additionally, overhead presses, push-ups, and pull-downs promote larger muscle recruitment and can aggravate shoulder symptoms. Try taking a break from these to give injured tissues a much-needed break.

It is better to target the small muscle groups in the shoulders independently, with body weight, free weights, or resistance bands.

Pay Attention to Your Symptoms

In truth, there are no specific movements that are absolutely off-limits when healing. It is more crucial to stay in tune with your body and pay attention to how your shoulder feels. Any move that causes the upper body, especially the neck, or back to tense is generally too hard and will strain the shoulder. Initially, try to avoid high-intensity moves in large ranges of motion (especially rotation and overhead movements). Ultimately, you should gradually build into them as you gain control and you heal.

Staying Safe While Exercising With a Shoulder Impingement

Start with low reps and light resistance. You should always feel comfortable with the exercises you are completing. If you are not sure where to start, seek medical advice from an orthopedic surgeon, physical therapist or other trusted healthcare professional.

Physical Therapy for Shoulder Impingement

If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek help immediately as there may be a more serious issue going on. More serious problems may include bursitis, frozen shoulder, a rotator cuff tear, spinal cord damage, nerve damage, and more.

  • Onset of numbness and tingling in the neck, shoulder, or arms.
  • Rapid and distinct loss of strength in the shoulders, arms, or hands.
  • Changes in your overall balance.
  • Decreased quality of life.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Changes in bladder or bowel control.



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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