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When patients at Douglas J. Abeles MD & Associates have shoulder surgery, we stress the importance of following all the aftercare instructions, especially performing the at-home exercises. These exercises are vital in achieving a full recovery and they help restore function to your shoulder joint, allowing you to return to your regular activities without pain and sooner than you thought possible.

Why are post-op exercises so important?

Whether your shoulder surgery was prompted by normal wear and tear, a sporting injury, or an accident, post-op exercises help stretch and strengthen your muscles and improve joint flexibility. They can relieve pain and reduce swelling, as well as restore your natural range of motion.

At-home exercises also help you learn your post-surgical limitations, ensuring you take the time to build your shoulder strength. By practicing your exercises, you gradually return to your daily life and activities without re-injury from moving too quickly.

Here at Dr. Abeles’s office, we recommend doing your basic at-home exercises 2-3 times a day after shoulder surgery, for about 10-15 minutes each time. Always follow your orthopedic surgeon’s aftercare plan and follow up with any questions or concerns. If an exercise causes pain, check in with your doctor before continuing.

Although each patient has a customized aftercare plan, there are some common shoulder exercises we usually prescribe, regardless of your specific shoulder issue.

Shoulder range of motion exercises


Begin this exercise by leaning over and placing your non post-op arm on a chair or bench for support. Let your post-op arm drop freely toward the floor. Move your hips in a clockwise rotation and let your arm swing with the momentum, like a pendulum. After 10 seconds, reverse and go counter-clockwise.


Either lie on the floor or stand straight. Hold a broomstick straight out in front of you with both hands — grasp your hands if you don’t have a stick. Slowly lift the stick and your hands above your head. Return your arms straight in front of you. Repeat 10 times, attempting to extend your range of motion after each set.

Towel stretch

Hold a towel in the hand of your post-op shoulder. Lift the arm toward the ceiling and bend the elbow, reaching your towel-holding hand toward the middle of your back. Using your other hand, reach behind your back and grab the other end of the towel. Move your hands toward each other on the towel. Hold for 10 seconds.

Shoulder strengthening exercises

Arm lifts

Stand with your post-op arm at your side. You can hold a pound weight (or a can of soup) in your hand if you’d like. Lift your arm in front of you to shoulder height. Slowly lower. Lift your arm out to the side, again to shoulder height. Lower. Repeat 10 times.

Wall push-ups

This is basically a standing push-up against a wall. Stand an arm’s distance away from a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place both hands flat on the wall and lean forward, keeping your hands and shoulders in line. Engage your pectoral muscles and push away from the wall, into a standing plank position. Repeat 10 times.

Isometric shoulder extension

Stand next to a wall with your post-surgical arm bent to 90 degrees at the elbow, so your forearm is parallel to the floor. Press your arm against the wall as though you were trying to lift it to shoulder height. Continue pressing against the wall for 10 seconds.

Rotator cuff exercises

External rotation

Lie on the floor with your post-surgical side toward the ceiling. Place a small pillow or towel on your side and bend your elbow to 90 degrees, placing it on the pillow. Keep your hand and forearm parallel to the floor. Keeping the elbow in place, lift your hand toward the ceiling. Stop when it hurts. Lower to parallel. Repeat 10 times.

Internal rotation

Assume the same position as in the previous exercise. This time, instead of rotating your hand toward the ceiling, rotate it toward the floor, still keeping your elbow tucked to your side. Lift to parallel. Again, repeat 10 times.

Performing your post-op exercises as instructed will have a huge impact on your shoulder health and recovery, and it will help to get you back to your normal routine quickly and safely.

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