Shoulder Rehab Exercises for Recovery After Surgery
Recovery after shoulder surgery can be slow and painful, but doing shoulder rehab exercises is the best way to speed up the healing process and avoid long-term complications.
In this post I would like to show you a series of 7 rehab exercises you can do with a shoulder pulley to gradually recover your range of motion and strengthen your shoulder after surgery.
I personally used these exercises to recover after a SLAP repair – a kind of arthroscopic surgery – so I know first-hand how effective these exercises can be for shoulder rehab.
A word of warning!
It goes without saying that the advice in this article should not replace the advice of your surgeon or physical therapy specialist! They know what’s best for you. But please take this as a reference guide to doing pulley exercises for shoulder rehab. If your physical therapist is in agreement with this course of treatment, then this guide will certainly help you on your road to recovery.
How do shoulder rehab exercises help with recover after surgery?
Any kind of surgery, even minimally invasive procedures like arthroscopy can be quite traumatic, requiring several months for full recovery. Sometimes there may be complications which can linger for years.
While initial recovery should consist only of rest and immobility, starting therapeutic rehab exercises early can significantly shorten the recovery period and lessen the risk of complications.
What kind of shoulder recovery exercises are the most effective after surgery?
The initial phase of recovery should focus on gradually and gently regaining your range of motion. Doing movements which are too vigorous or require strong muscular contraction will likely cause further injury and impede recovery.
The best kind of rehab treatment for initial recovery is passive movement range-of-motion exercise. These are exercises which stretch and gently strengthen your shoulder with minimal or no contraction of the injured shoulder’s muscles.
Your physical therapist will be able to help you gently stretch out your shoulder. But these exercises will need to be done once or twice every day for several weeks. Since it is unlikely you will always have a therapist on hand to help you, you need a method of doing passive exercises on your own.
This is where a shoulder pulley comes in.
The best tool for doing recovery exercises after shoulder surgery
A shoulder pulley is a simple but ingenious device which you can use to do passive shoulder rehab exercises at home.
The pulley is attached to a door anchor which you can wedge into the frame at the top of a door.
This gives you an anchor point and allows you to perform passive exercises in front of the door.
How to do passive exercises with a shoulder rehab pulley
The series of 7 recovery exercises below are designed to be done as a gradual progression. You do not do all 7 from the outset. Start with just the first exercise and only move onto the next when this becomes easy.
Usually for recovery after shoulder surgery you should do these rehab exercises twice every day, although of course this depends on the advice of your physical therapist.
For each of the exercises, hold the stretch in the final position for 5-10 seconds.
7 shoulder pulley rehab exercises
Sit facing the door, as shown. The unaffected arm pulls the affected arm (in the pictures the left arm is the one which has undergone shoulder surgery). Pulling down on one handle lifts the opposite arm up and towards the door, gently stretching the shoulder joint.
Turn the chair 90 degrees and perform the same exercise but with your arm being lifted out to the side.
When your range of movement has increased, you can turn the chair away from the door and lift the injured arm directly in front of you.
With further improvement, you can move on to the next exercise, this time with your arm positioned at a 45 degree angle from your body. Perform the same exercise at this angle of motion.
The next exercise is again the same, but this time your arm points out to the side at a 90 degree angle.
The next exercise is done standing. Lift the injured arm up and down behind your back. Start with small movements and gradually increase the range of motion.
In the final exercise, stand side-on to the door and pull the injured arm so that it rotates outward.
Maintain an upright posture without hunching up your shoulders or allowing them to slump forward. Your elbow should be held close to your side. Holding a rolled up towel between your body and upper arm can help.
Once your shoulder’s range of motion has improved dramatically, you should also start doing rotation exercises with resistance bands – this will strengthen your rotator cuff and complete the recovery process.
Shoulder rehab exercises with bands
1. Outward rotation
2. Inward rotation
3. Two-handed outward rotation
You can use different kinds of bands for these exercises, but I recommend: