Features June 2013 Issue

Moving Your Shoulder Past the Pain to Increase Mobility

While it’s painful, getting the shoulder moving is the best way to ease the ache of arthritis and regain function.

It’s true that any type of shoulder arthritis can cause severe pain and make the easiest task seem impossible. Yet, the best way to overcome these restricting aches is by actually getting the shoulder moving again.

“Shoulder pain from arthritis can be very challenging, keeping the most active people from playing golf or even putting their dishes away. Shoulder exercises help overcome the pain and stiffness and help regain mobility,” says Tracy Smith, PT, Director of Physical Therapy at Cleveland Clinic Florida. “While not an overnight cure, incorporating daily exercise that specifically targets the shoulder area can help long term.”

For those with arthritis, not exercising the shoulder can result in muscle atrophy, joint instability, further joint degeneration, and possibly a frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis). Stretching and strengthening exercises can provide multiple benefits, including reducing pain, increasing range of motion and function, and supporting healthy cartilage. Adding a nutritious diet to exercise can also help with weight loss and benefit overall function of day-to-day activities.

Passive versus active
The best way to approach shoulder pain is by working with a healthcare provider who can design an exercise plan that meets your needs. By tailoring a warm-up and post-workout routine, you’ll be better able to maximize the benefits of stretching, strengthening and exercise while minimizing the possibility of pain or injury, according to Smith.

“We typically begin with passive range of motion and gentle stretching movements to help relax and allow the soft tissues to be lengthened. Gentle and sustained stretches can help warm up the tissues around the arthritic shoulder and promote better mobility,” Smith says.

“Passive range-of-motion exercises are performed with the help of the therapist who moves the arm,” explains Smith. “These are very important for someone who has not been able to move the arm and shoulder for a period of time by helping increase blood flow and flexibility.”

A gentle transition to increasing movement and decreasing pain is accomplished through isometric exercises such as the “pendulum.” By using gentle isometric exercise for your arthritic shoulder you can strengthen muscles without having to move your joints.

To strengthen muscles, Smith recommends active range-of-motion exercises. “Active motion, such as lifting the arm up and down in functional patterns, can start building muscle tone. We then work with tools including resistance bands to increase resistance,” she says. “Many of the exercises are easily completed at home, but the key to success is making sure they’re done on a regular basis.”