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Common Recovery Exercises after Shoulder Replacement Surgery

Here are a few basic exercises you’ll likely encounter after shoulder replacement surgery.

Shoulder replacement surgery may be an option for anyone who finds themselves still in significant pain from shoulder arthritis despite months or years of physical therapy, medication, and even the old "grin and bear it" approach. Talk to your doctor… for the right person, shoulder replacement surgery can offer lessened shoulder pain and improved function.

Even when a shoulder replacement surgery goes perfectly smoothly, it's incredibly important that patients keep up with their post-surgical rehab exercises. Performing rehabilitation exercises consistently can:

  • Promote recovery1
  • Restore strength and range of motion2
  • Help control pain and muscle guarding2
  • Reduce the risk of complications, including blood clots (by promoting circulation)3

So, what sort of exercises can you expect to do after your shoulder replacement? Below are 6 of the most common ones.

An important disclaimer: the information shared in this post is not intended to be used as medical advice, but rather for informational purposes only. Always check with your surgeon and physical therapist or occupational therapist before doing any exercises.

6 Common rehab exercises after shoulder replacement surgery

Reviewed by Dr. Thomas Duquin

1. Ball squeezes

Taking medication to reduce pain and inflammation after surgery can help you feel more comfortable, but this simple exercise can reportedly help, too. To do:

Gently squeeze a soft ball 20-30 times with the hand of your surgical arm. Don't have a ball? Try using a balled up sock or small hand towel instead.


2. Wrist and finger curls

Since you won't be moving or using your arm quite as much as you recover from surgery, your wrist and hand can quickly become stiff. This simple exercise can help avoid this problem. To do:

  • Bend your wrist up and down 20 to 30 times.
  • Then, keeping your wrist straight, open and close your fist 20 to 30 times. Focus on straightening out your fingers and thumb as wide out as they can go and then making a tight fist and holding for 10 seconds.

3. Bicep curls

Your elbow can get stiff after shoulder surgery, too. This exercise is intended to avoid this. To do:

  • Remove your sling if you have one and leave your arm supported on a pillow.
  • Bend your elbow up fully and try to touch your hand to your shoulder then allow you elbow to straighten fully with gravity. Repeat this about 10 to 20 times.

4. Shoulder external rotation

When your arm is supported in a sling for a long time, the muscles and tissues on the front of your shoulder can get stiff and short. This exercise helps stretch the front of your shoulder to avoid stiffening. To do:

  • Remove your sling if you have one and leave your surgical arm bent at the elbow with your hand against your belly.
  • Use your other hand to gently move your arm until your hand and forearm is pointing in front of you. Be sure to keep your elbow in at your side.

5. Shoulder blade pinches

Activating the muscles on the back of your shoulders promotes healing and can alleviate pain from sitting a lot or wearing a sling. To do:

  • Sit or stand up straight.
  • Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together (don't let them rise up as you do this). Pretend there's a pencil parallel to your spine and you're trying to pinch it in place with your shoulder blades.
  • Repeat 20 to 30 times.

6. Pendulum

This last exercise is a great way to gently start increasing range of motion in your shoulder. To do:

  • Lean forward at the hips and place the non-surgical hand on a table.
  • Let your surgical arm hang down loose, like a pendulum.
  • Gently rock your body so that your surgical arm starts moving in small circles. Repeat 20 to 30 times, then switch directions.

Be sure that you're not actively using your shoulder muscles to move the arm, but instead letting your body and gravity do the work.

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This content was reviewed by Dr. Thomas Duquin paid consultant of Zimmer Biomet.

  1. Elliot T. and Athwal, GS. (2017). Shoulder Surgery Exercise Guide. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/recovery/shoulder-surgery-exercise-guide/
  2. van der Meijden, OA., et al. (2012, Apr). Rehabilitation after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair: current concepts review and evidence-based guidelines. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. 7(2): 197–218. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3325631/
  3. Recovering from shoulder replacement surgery. (n.d.) USCF Health. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/recovering-from-shoulder-replacement-surgery

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