Helpful Tips

How to Recover from a Shoulder Injury

Recovering from a shoulder injury can be a time and labor-intensive process. Nobody likes having downtime when you are trying to work out and get your exercise in. However, when something gets hurt you need to accept the fact that you need to care for your injury and let go of the frustration you are probably feeling. This happens to everyone sometimes, so instead of being angry which is unproductive, spend your energy healing your injury.

Before getting into the recovery tips and processes, it is important to cover the different types of shoulder injuries because the method for recovery is not always the same.

Different Types of Injuries to the Shoulders

There are many ways to hurt your shoulder since there are so many moving parts and the muscles are so often used. Just about everything you do involves your shoulders and shoulder muscles. Here are some of the most common shoulder injuries:

Frozen Shoulder

This one is often extremely difficult to find the cause of. It can be for many different reasons and it affects between 2 to 3 percent of all Americans. Typically, frozen shoulder shows up in people between the ages of 40 and 60. Most often this is caused when an injury to the shoulder heals and the scar tissue that is left behind affects the mobility of the joint. The noticeable symptom of this shoulder injury is the inability to move your joint in any direction without pain (thus the term ‘frozen shoulder’.)

Rotator Cuff Injury / Tear

Your rotator cuff is not a singular thing. It is a group of 4 different muscles located in the upper part of the arm. This group of muscles allows you to move the arm up or down. They are attached to your bones by a group of tendons. The tendons or any of the 4 muscles can tear or become sore, this is known as a rotator cuff tear. The main symptom of a torn rotator is a pain when moving the arm and shoulder.

Strain or Overuse Injury

Like all muscles, your shoulder can be overused and become very painful. There will be a severe loss of flexibility when this happens. This happens more in middle-aged people than young people, especially if you have a sedentary lifestyle and do not exercise regularly. Overuse and strains are not serious injuries and can usually be overcome with some pain meds and massage/exercise.

Instability of the Shoulder

Unlike most of the other injuries here, this one is more common in younger people and athletes. Instability happens when the ligaments are overstretched, they lose elasticity and become unstable. Ligaments are like the ropes that hold the whole shoulder structure together and if they get too stretched out, they lose strength. Stretched out ligaments can cause shoulder separation where the clavicle and the acromion have tears between them. Shoulder instability could be a few different injuries, but the result is the same, loss of strength and some pain and soreness.


This can affect younger people but is more common in middle age and older people. The main cause of this is overuse. The normally smooth cartilage between bones becomes worn away causing painful movement. This can be treated with rest and pain meds and in severe cases, surgery is needed.

Shoulder Injury Recovery General Tips

No matter what kind of injury you have, these are some basic tips that will apply to any type of shoulder injury. Each injury will require specific treatment but no matter what is going on with your shoulder pain, these tips will help.

Learn the packed position

During the healing process, keeping your shoulder in the right position will allow the muscles to be properly aligned to initiate healing. The idea here is to pull your shoulders down and back, sort of pushing out your chest. You want to move your shoulder blades closer together. This is the first way to achieve the ‘packed position’.

The other way is to place your arms to your sides and bend at the elbow 90 degrees. Without bending your elbows move your hands apart from each other and you will feel your shoulder and back muscles slightly contracting.

Be Smart, Take Precautions

Do not do anything stupid! Your shoulder is injured and needs to rest, so no matter how bad you want that box on the top shelf in the garage, just leave it there. Do not try to do jumping jacks, pushups, or start jumping rope just yet. Take it easy on your shoulder and keep in mind the muscles and joints need to heal. Intense movement or strain is going to be an awfully bad idea right now. Be smart, be nice to your shoulder for a while so it can heal.

Gentle Resistance Exercises

Once your shoulder is more stable it is safe to do some light exercise. Do not jump right into the battle rope yet! Start off small with some of these simple resistance exercises.

Standing Row: Using a resistance band that is secured to something in front of you, pull back on the rope gently. Repeat slowly for a few minutes on each arm.

Front Shoulder Raise: Grab a lightweight (maybe a five pounder) in your hand. Face your palm down and gently lift the weight. Repeat for each arm slowly.

Do Some Stability Exercises

These are like resistance activities but are more geared to increase stability. Do not overdo it with any of these exercises and only do them until you feel the muscles get tired.

Wall Push-Ups: Stand facing a wall and reach out your hands. Place the palms of your hands on the wall and back up a full step from the wall so you are at an angle to the wall. Bring your face close to the wall and push yourself back to the starting position. Repeat until you feel the muscles get a little tired.

Standing Lateral Scapula Pinches: Standing up straight open your arms wide and slowly bring your hands together like an exaggerated clapping motion. Do this slow and steady. Do not do too many for too long, just until you feel slight muscle fatigue in your shoulders