4 Seated Range Of Motion Exercises For Shoulder Pain Combined Into ONE Amazing Exercise

There are so many range of motion exercises for shoulder pain that it can be overwhelming.

However, if you want to improve your pain-free shoulder range of motion, you don't need dozens of exercises.  It's more about choosing the RIGHT exercises.

In fact, you can improve your shoulder range of motion in flexion, abduction, internal rotation, and external rotation with just ONE exercise. Plus, you don't have to lie down or use any equipment to do it.

Watch the video below to learn how to do the exercise.

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What Are The Best Range Of Motion Exercises For Shoulder Pain?

Most shoulder range motion exercises focus on single-plane movements.  These include:

  • Flexion - Moving your arm forward
  • Extension - Moving your arm backward
  • Abduction - Moving your arm away from midline
  • External Rotation - Rotating your forearm away from your body around the axis of your upper arm.
  • Internal Rotation - Rotating your forearm toward from your body around the axis of your upper arm.

However, that's not the way that you move your shoulder in real life.

When you uses your arm in real life, your shoulder joint and shoulder blade move at the same time in 3 dimensions.

Therefore, when doing range of motion exercises for shoulder pain, it's often not helpful to focus on single-joint, single-axis motions.

In the sections below, I'll show you one shoulder range of motion exercise that combines several movements into a single exercise.

For clarity, I'll first break it down into individual steps, each of which could be its own "exercise" per se.   Then at the end, we'll combine the steps into a single exercise.

Starting Position of the Shoulder Range of Motion Exercise

Sit up tall in a chair with your elbows to your side.

Turn your arms palm up, and move your hands out to the side into shoulder external rotation.

Range of Motion Exercises for Shoulder - Starting Position

You want the axis of rotation through your upper arm bone.

Lift your chest slightly and then bring your elbows forward.

Range of Motion Exercises for Shoulder External Rotation

That incorporates both shoulder flexion and external rotation as well as scapular (shoulder blade) posterior tilt.

Movements Of The Shoulder Blade

Keep your hands turned outward into external rotation, and squeeze your shoulder blades back together slightly.

That externally rotates the scapula as well (see above).

From this position, if you straightened your elbows down to your side, that would be a good resting posture for your shoulders.

Seated Shoulder Resting Posture

So you can use the starting position of this exercise to check your posture throughout the day.

Step 1: Shoulder Internal Rotation and External Rotation Range of Motion Exercise

From the starting position, rotate your forearms back and forth around the axis of your upper arm into internal rotation and external rotation.

Seated Shoulder Range of Motion Exercises - Internal Rotation Range of Motion Exercises for Shoulder External Rotation

Ensure that you use a pure axis of rotation along the upper arm bone.

Don't allow your shoulder blade to tip forward.

This exercise helps improve shoulder internal rotation and external rotation range of motion as well as strengthens your rotator cuff muscles.

Rotator cuff muscles

The subscapularis, shown on the left, performs shoulder internal rotation. The other 3 rotator cuff muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor) performs shoulder external rotation.

Step 2: Shoulder Flexion Range of Motion Exercise

Return to the starting position and raise your elbows forward as far as you can easily.

Range of Motion Exercise for Shoulder Flexion

You should still have your arms externally rotated and your palms should be facing you.

Step 3: Shoulder Shrug Exercise

Once you hit resistance, shrug your shoulders to continue the upward motion.

Range of Motion Exercises for Shoulder - Shrug

This elevates and upwardly rotates your shoulders using your upper trapezius and serratus anterior muscles.

Trapezius serratus anterior

It also stretches your latissimus dorsi muscles.

How To Stretch Tight Lat Dorsi Muscles

Step 4: Repeat Exercise in Varying Arm Positions

You can perform this exercise with your elbows in different positions—forward, out to the side, or midway between.

With your elbows positioned in front as shown above, that focuses more on shoulder flexion range of motion.

Shoulder Scaption Range of Motion

With your elbows midway between straight forward and out to the side, this positions the shoulder blade closer to it's natural alignment, around 30 degrees in front of straight out to the side. This motion is known as scapular plane abduction or also called scaption.

Range of Motion Exercise for Shoulder Scaption

This exercise is easiest to perform with your arms in the scapular plane. You'll probably have the greatest range of motion with your arms positioned this way.

Shoulder Abduction Range of Motion

You can also perform this exercise with your arms straight out to the side to improve shoulder abduction range of motion.

Range of Motion Exercise for Shoulder Abduction

When you do it this way, you stretch your chest muscles and strengthen all parts of your trapezius muscle to a greater extent.

Step 5: Combining The Steps Into One Exercises

The final step is combining all of these motions into a single shoulder range of motion exercise.

  1. Start out in the starting position.
    1. Go into internal rotation.
    2. Go back into external rotation.
  2. Lift your arms up into shoulder flexion.
    1. Shrug your shoulders.
    2. Lower back down to the starting position.
    3. Go into internal rotation.
    4. Go back into external rotation.
  3. Move your arms out in to shoulder scaption.
    1. Lift your elbows.
    2. Lower back down to the starting position.
    3. Go into internal rotation.
    4. Go back into external rotation.
  4. Move your arms all the way out to the side. 
    1. Lift your elbows into shoulder abduction.
    2. Shrug your shoulders.
    3. Lower back down to the starting position.
  5. Repeat.

If you repeat this entire sequence 5-10 times per session and do this exercise 1-2 times per day, you should see a gradual improvement in your pain-free shoulder range of motion.

Need More Help For Shoulder Pain?

There's more to getting rid of shoulder pain than just doing exercises. Even the right exercises are only a small part of the recovery process.

Keep in mind that even if you exercise 1 hour per day, what you do the other 23 hours of your day have a much larger effect on your shoulder pain.

If you live in the St. Louis area and need help to figure out what's causing your shoulder pain and how to get rid of it, tap the button below to request an appointment with one of our specialist physical therapists.

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