See your doctor if your shoulder pain began suddenly, has been getting worse, or if you are not sure what has caused your shoulder pain.

If you are beginning a resistance training program you may find some exercises that you are either unable to do or that cause pain while you are exercising or after exercise. If you have shoulder pain you may need to avoid these exercises until your shoulders improve:

  • Overhead press
  • Chest press
  • Flyes
  • Any exercise that causes shoulder pain during or after exercise

Pain and limited mobility in the shoulders is a common problem. There are several causes of shoulder pain. The most common are arthritis, rotator cuff irritation or tears, impingement, and frozen shoulder.

The rotator cuff includes the tendons of four muscles that surround the shoulder and control movement of the joint. The tendons can become irritated and painful due to repeated movements, poor control of the shoulder blade and shoulder, or trauma. Pain from a rotator cuff injury is frequently felt at the side of the arm and is worse with overhead movements or forceful movements especially with the arm away from the body. The shoulder is also commonly more painful at night.

Shoulder impingement refers to pinching of the rotator cuff tendons between the humerus (the upper arm bone) and the underside of part of the shoulder blade that is above the end of the humerus. The tendons are pinched when these two bones move too close to each other as the arm is raised.

Frozen shoulder is condition where the shoulder is very stiff painful. This usually begins with an injury to the shoulder. The exact cause of frozen shoulder is not known. Treatment for frozen shoulder with exercise can help but recovery can take up to 12 months.

How can I decrease my shoulder pain and regain use of my arm?

Unfortunately shoulder injuries heal slowly but with proper care they do heal most of the time.

Aerobic Training

In addition to the benefits for your heart and the rest of your body, aerobic exercise will help your shoulders by increasing the amount of blood flow to the joint. If you walk or run, the swinging movement of the arm during exercise will help maintain joint flexibility. Range of motion and flexibility exercises will be more effective and may be more comfortable if done following your aerobic workout.


If you have had a recent shoulder injury or have ongoing pain and limitations in movement in your shoulder:

  1. Limit use of your arm for reaching up and out away from your body. Use your arm only in movements that do not cause pain. If a movement hurts, avoid it as much as possible.
  2. Ice your shoulder for 20 minutes at a time, several times each day.
  3. Begin range of motion (joint movement) exercises moving only as much as you can with little or no pain
    • Pendulum
    • Assisted elevation
    • Assisted rotation

If your injury or limitation is less severe or is improving you can begin stretching exercises:

    • Arm across your body
    • Corner stretch
    • Overhead stretch
    • Towel stretch hand behind neck
    • Towel stretch hand behind back

As with all stretches they should not cause pain. Move into the stretch to point of muscle tension but not pain. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat each one 2 to 3 times.

As your shoulder improves you can begin strengthening exercises.

  1. Begin with exercises that do not require you to raise your arm far away from your body.
  2. The exercises should not cause pain either during the exercise or after.

Am I doing too much or too little?

How your shoulder reacts to exercise is the best way to determine if you are doing the correct amount of exercise. If you are irritating the shoulder it will become inflamed more so than your usual level of inflammation:

  • Increased stiffness
  • Increased pain
  • Increased warmth to the touch around the joint

If you are having these problems then decrease the amount or intensity of the exercise you are doing to the point where you can exercise without these symptoms. The best plan is to start slowly and avoid irritating your shoulder as much as possible.

If you are still having increased joint pain hours after your workout or the next day than the exercise program is irritating the joint and you should change your workout.

There is a difference between joint pain and muscle pain from starting an exercise program. Especially if you have been inactive you will have muscle soreness following your workouts (link to DOMS page). This is normal and will improve.

More challenging strengthening exercises

  • Shoulder inward rotation
  • Shoulder outward rotation
  • Low shoulder flexion
  • Low shoulder extension
  • PNF Diagonals
  • Prone reverse fly
  • Serratus pushup