Shoulder Dislocation Exercises in 2023

Dr. Pamela Mehta, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon, San Jose

Exercises for Shoulder Dislocation

Shoulder dislocation is a common injury and can also be a chronic problem. The likelihood of you dislocating your shoulder again goes up every time you dislocate it.

Exercises help prevent long-lasting damage and reduce the risk of future dislocation. These exercises are gentle at first, then get harder to build up your shoulder strength. In this article, we will discuss the best exercises for recovery from shoulder dislocation.

These exercises should not be used without supervision from a shoulder surgeon or physical therapist.

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The 7 Best Shoulder Dislocation Exercises

For the first couple of days following shoulder dislocation, you should try to keep your arm as still as possible. This helps to dampen inflammation. However, once the inflammation has started to settle you should introduce gentle exercises. This will be directed by your orthopedist or physical therapist.

Shoulder pain and stiffness gets worse if you keep your arm still for too long. Successful rehabilitation gets your shoulder moving shortly after treatment for dislocation.

For each of these exercises, stop if you feel any pain in your shoulder. Do not attempt these until your treating clinician tells you that you can introduce gentle exercise. You should wait at least 3 days following the dislocation before starting.

*If you have had shoulder surgery, please check with your orthopedic surgeon when you can start exercises*

Exercises While Your Arm is Still in a Sling

After 3 days of your arm being in a sling, you can start to introduce some gentle exercises to prevent shoulder weakness. You should aim to do all these exercises four times per day. If you feel any pain in your shoulder, or discomfort lasting longer than 10 seconds, stop the exercise.

1. Modified Shoulder Flexion & Extension

While your arm is still in a sling you need to avoid any overhead exercises. For this reason, we will do a modified shoulder flexion and extension, which we will change to the full version once you’re out of your sling.

When you are first able to introduce gentle exercise, start by bending your elbow at 90 degrees while your arm is at your side. You can then move your arm backward and forwards like you are power walking, taking care to avoid any painful movement. Do this slowly, 10 times for each movement.

gentle shoulder flexion and extension for shoulder dislocation exercises

If this movement doesn’t cause any pain, you can start to introduce resistance to this exercise. Place a pillow on the wall and start with your back facing the wall. Bend your arm and push against the wall with your elbow, holding for 10 seconds. Repeat this 10 times.

modified shoulder extension

Then, move so that you are facing the wall. Using the same starting position, this time you should be pushing your fist against the wall while your elbow is at your side. Again, hold this for 10 seconds, repeating it 10 times.

modified shoulder flexion

2. Shoulder External Rotation

Start by holding something elastic, such as an exercise band, in both of your hands. Hold the exercise band out in front of you at waist height with your elbows at your sides, bent at 90 degrees. Your palms should be facing downward.

shoulder external rotation

Pull the band apart gradually until you feel a light stretch in your arm – keeping your elbows tucked in!

shoulder active external rotation with a band

Restore your hands to their original posture by slowly bringing them back together. Repeat this 10 times. 

3. Modified Shoulder Internal Rotation

The usual internal rotation exercises require overhead movement, which is avoided after dislocation. We will use a modified exercise until your shoulder has gained some strength. This is also known as an isometric exercise.

Grab a pillow and find a doorway with plenty of room on each side. Place your arm at your side and your elbow bent 90 degrees, palm facing towards your body. Position yourself so that your hand and pillow are touching the wall.

Keeping this same position, press against the wall with your hand like in this picture.

modified shoulder internal rotation with a pillow

Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat 10 times.

Shoulder Dislocation Exercises After Your Sling is Removed

Once your sling is removed, you can start to build up your shoulder strengthening exercises. It’s important that you progress slowly, stopping if you feel pain or significant discomfort. Your doctor will advise you on when you can start these more intensive exercises.

1. Shoulder Flexion

As this is an overhead exercise, it is important to avoid causing any damage to your recovering shoulder. If you experience any pain at all, or discomfort that lasts longer than 10 seconds, move back to the modified shoulder flexion exercise. Stand up with your arm at your side and your palm facing your thigh. 

standing with arms at your side

Slowly raise your arm in front of you, keeping the arm straight, until your fingers are pointed up at the sky. 

Hold this position for 5 seconds, then return to the starting position. Do this 10 times.

Repeat this 3 times throughout the day, taking plenty of rest between each set.

Eventually, you can introduce a resistance band into this exercise – holding the band under your foot and slowly lifting it above your head.

resisted shoulder flexion

2. Shoulder Abduction

To start with, use isometric exercises (strengthening exercises where there is no movement). This helps to introduce gentle shoulder strengthening exercises.

Stand sideways next to a wall with your arms to your side. Your palms should face inwards, and the outside of your hand should be touching the wall. Push outwards against the wall as if you are trying to raise your arm to the side.

isometric shoulder abduction

Do this for 10 seconds, repeating it 10 times.

Once you are in less discomfort, you can try this without isometric exercises. With your arms at your side, slowly lift your arm above your head. Hold for 5 seconds before going back to the original position.

active shoulder abduction

Once your shoulder strength is returning, use an exercise band for this exercise to help gain additional strength.

resisted shoulder abduction

3. Wall Push-Ups

Stand one foot away from a wall. Place your hands in front of you at chest height on the wall, slightly wider than shoulder-width. Keep your elbows tucked in while you gently lean into the wall and push back to the original position.

wall pushups

As you gain strength and confidence in your movements, increase the distance you are from the wall.

4. Shoulder Internal Rotation

Find a towel, resistance band, or something similar for shoulder internal rotation. With the hand that is not affected, hold one end behind your head.

first step for shoulder internal rotation - hold the band behind the back

Reach behind you and grab the towel at the level of your lower back with the affected arm.

shoulder internal rotation second step

Lift your lower hand toward your shoulder blades by gently raising it with your uninjured arm. Hold it here for 30 seconds as you continue to elevate so that you can feel it stretching without any pain.

shoulder internal rotation with a resistance band

After a little pause, go back to your starting posture and repeat. Repeat this set of two twice throughout the day. 

You can also use the shoulder external rotation exercise we described above.

How Resilience Orthopedics Can Help

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Dr. Pamela Mehta is an orthopedic surgeon and a specialist in sports injuries, degenerative arthritis, and minimally invasive surgery. Dr. Mehta offers a concierge service and treats you holistically, rather than just fixing your joints. She listens to your concerns, takes time to explain how your condition and potential surgery will affect you, and works with you to create the best treatment plan.

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