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Seven exercises for shoulder arthritis

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Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the shoulder joints. Performing specific exercises on a regular basis can help relieve the symptoms of arthritis, which include pain and swelling.

Approximately 54.4 million people in the United States receive an arthritis diagnosis every year.

Arthritis causes flares of inflammation in the joints, leading to pain and stiffness. These symptoms can have a significant impact on how much mobility people have in the affected joints.

As a result, arthritis tends to make it more challenging to exercise. However, keeping the joints active can have a powerful effect on the severity of arthritis symptoms.

The types of arthritis that commonly affect the shoulder include rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoarthritis.

In this article, we look at exercises that may reduce the damage that arthritis does to the shoulder joints and help people manage pain.

Seven exercises for shoulder arthritis


Stretches are a beneficial exercise for shoulder arthritis.

The most beneficial types of exercise for arthritis include:

  • range-of-motion and flexibility exercises, such as stretches, which reduce stiffness
  • strength exercises that build muscle mass around the joints, which reduces the strain on them
  • aerobic activities, such as walking, swimming, and cycling, as these improve heart, lung, and muscle function

The following exercises should stretch and strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint:

1. Shoulder elevation stretch

This exercise improves the range of motion in the shoulder joints and stretches the muscles. Doing this exercise regularly should facilitate daily activities, such as reaching for items on shelves. To do this exercise:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Hold a broom handle or walking stick with both hands, keeping them shoulder-width apart.
  3. Place the handle or stick gently on the thighs.
  4. Slowly raise the pole up past the chest, then over the head so that it is almost touching the floor above the head. Keep the arms as straight as possible throughout.
  5. Lower the handle or stick slowly back down to the thighs.
  6. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions once a day.

You should feel a gentle stretch in the shoulders, back, and chest as the arms move overhead.

2. Shoulder outward rotation stretch

This exercise also requires a broom handle or walking stick. It improves the flexibility in the shoulder joints. Follow the steps below:

  1. Lie on your back.
  2. Keeping the upper arms by your sides, bend your elbows and hold the stick out above the chest with your hands shoulder-width apart.
  3. Slowly move the pole to the left until you feel a stretch in the left shoulder.
  4. Return to the starting position.
  5. Repeat on the right side of the body.
  6. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions once a day.

3. Shoulder blade rotations

This rotation stretches the shoulders to promote increased range of movement. To do this exercise:

  1. Stand in a neutral position with your hands at your sides.
  2. Raise your shoulders towards your ears and hold for 5 seconds.
  3. Gently squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Pull the shoulder blades downward and hold for 5 seconds.
  5. Repeat 10 times.

4. Pendulum exercise

The pendulum exercise helps relieve pain and relax the shoulder muscles. It involves the following series of movements:

  1. Bend forward and rest a hand on top of a chair or counter for support and balance. Use the arm that is less sore to do this.
  2. Allow the other hand to hang down.
  3. Using motion from the legs and hips, gently swing the hanging hand back and forth and side to side in a circular motion.
  4. Repeat this 30 times in each direction once a day.

5. Door lean

The door lean can help stretch the muscles in the shoulders and improve resistance in the joints. Perform the exercise as follows:

  1. Stand facing toward a doorway and raise both hands above your head.
  2. Place one hand on either side of the doorframe.
  3. Gently lean forward until you feel a comfortable tension in your shoulders.
  4. Hold this position for 15–30 seconds.
  5. Repeat 3 times.

6. Door presses

Door press exercises can help build strength in the shoulder joints. To do these exercises:

  1. Stand in a doorway and bend one elbow into a right angle with the thumb on that hand pointing toward the ceiling.
  2. Press the back of your wrist into the doorframe.
  3. Hold for 5 seconds.
  4. Repeat with the palm of your hand, using the other side of the doorframe.
  5. Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each side.

7. Strengthen the postural muscles

Strengthening the postural muscles will improve overall posture, allowing the shoulders to move more easily in all directions. These exercises require an exercise band, which it is possible to buy in a sporting goods store or online.

To do these exercises:

  1. Stand straight with your shoulders back.
  2. Loop the exercise band behind a solid, vertical object and hold one end in either hand.
  3. Relax your shoulders and bend your elbows at your sides.
  4. Pull your elbows backward while squeezing the shoulder blades together. If the exercise band does not provide any resistance, take a step back or loop the ends of the bands around your hands.
  5. Hold for 5 seconds.
  6. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions once a day.


Tips for safety

Senior stretching before exercise
Warming up before exercise may include a brisk walk or light aerobic activity.

Arthritis can make exercising more challenging, so be sure to exercise with care to avoid injury. Follow these tips to stay safe when exercising with arthritis.

Warm up before doing any exercise to stimulate blood flow around the body. A warmup might include a brisk 10-minute walk or another light aerobic activity.

It should be possible to feel a stretch in the shoulders when doing these exercises, but they should not be painful. If a particular motion hurts, stop doing it right away. If the pain persists for several hours after the exercise, it may be necessary to see a doctor.

If the exercises cause any swelling in the shoulders, use an ice pack to reduce inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also be beneficial.


What to avoid

It is crucial to avoid doing exercises that strain the shoulder muscles or put excessive pressure on them, as this can result in injury.

Certain stretches may be painful or uncomfortable for some people and not others, so it is vital to always listen to your body during exercise.

For some people, shoulder exercises such as pushups or lifting heavy weights can be too intense for the shoulder joints. However, light exercise is necessary to build up the shoulder muscles.

Aerobic exercise is also essential for physical health and mental well-being. People with severe symptoms could try gentle alternatives to regular forms of exercise, for example, replacing swimming with water therapy. This form of exercise offers many of the same benefits as swimming but places less pressure on the shoulders.

Some people with milder symptoms may be able to continue with traditional forms of aerobic exercise.

The most appropriate type or frequency of exercise will vary from person to person. It depends on the severity of the person’s arthritis symptoms and other factors, such as the amount of muscle surrounding the affected joints.

A physical therapist should be able to work with an individual to create a tailored exercise plan for them and explain any specific types of exercise that they should avoid.


Outlook

The outlook for arthritis in the shoulder joints is variable. In the early stages of the condition, symptoms are generally mild and do not have a significant impact on the range of motion.

When arthritis is more advanced, people may experience severe pain and reduced movement in the affected shoulder joints.

Regular exercise will keep the shoulder joints active, which can have a noticeable impact on reducing pain and improving the range of motion in this area of the body. People should exercise with care to avoid further damaging the joints or surrounding tissues.

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