Exercises to Help a Dropped Shoulder

Updated March 23, 2017

A dropped shoulder or separated shoulder is a type of sports-related injury that results from stress or strain of the joint between the clavicle and acromion, the bone directly above the shoulder socket. To restore the full range of motion and reduce the risk of re-injury or chronic joint pain after the separated shoulder heals, a dropped shoulder requires assessment by a physician, in addition to rest and therapy.

Purpose of Shoulder Exercises

Exercises for a separated shoulder are designed to help restore the full range of motion after an injury. Shoulder exercises should not strain the joint, and they should not be painful during recovery. Acute pain while using the shoulder indicates too much stress on the joint and is counterproductive to healing. Instead, stretches and resistance exercises should be introduced and increased gradually, to minimise the risk of exacerbating the damage.

Function of Exercises Within Therapy

Dropped-shoulder exercises should be used within a treatment plan that includes work with a physical therapist and prolonged periods of rest. Immediately after diagnosis of a separated shoulder, the patient should receive some type of sling to reduce downward pressure on the shoulder joints and allow the joint to heal. The patient also might be directed to apply ice to the injury periodically to reduce swelling. After the injury has begun to heal and the patient has started doing shoulder exercises, mild heat might be used to stimulate healing.

Types of Exercises

Several types of shoulder exercises can be directed by a physical therapist to help a dropped shoulder heal.

Wand exercises are a common type of shoulder exercises that involve holding a stick in both hands and then raising the wand, holding the wand behind the back, or using the wand to push one arm or the other.

Regular stretches might also help restore range of motion to a separated shoulder. These include moving the arm back or forward, lifting the arms out from the sides of the body and over the head, and shrugging the shoulders.

Resisted stretches are also recommended. They involve tying a latex band to a doorknob and then pulling it in various directions across or away from the body.

Tools for Shoulder Exercises

In addition to the latex bands used for resisted shoulder stretches, athletes recovering from a separated shoulder might wish to add very light hand weights to their other stretching exercises, to maximise the returns on stretching and help sustain the muscles around the injured joint. When the dropped shoulder has mostly or fully healed, athletes should use caution and reintroduce weight training very gradually, and should focus on balancing the muscle mass on the injured and uninjured sides.

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About the Author

Lesley Graybeal has been writing articles for internet content since 2006. Her work can be found on a range of hobby and business resource web publications, including and, as well as several academic journals. Lesley earned her B.A. and M.A. degrees in English from the University of Georgia, and is currently completing her dissertation in Social Foundations of Education.