While aging brings aches and pains, common shoulder injuries for seniors include torn rotator cuffs and bone fractures. Whether from trying to lift something heavy, playing a sport, or falling, these injuries become more likely with age. Depending on severity, someone may or may not need surgery to repair an injured shoulder, but most shoulder injuries will require rehabilitation.
While your physician or healthcare provider will prescribe a rehab program tailored to you and your unique needs, here are some known exercises for shoulder rehab that you may find useful on your journey to recovery and healing.
How long after a shoulder injury can I start rehab?
If your shoulder injury does not require surgery, some sort of rehabilitation – physical or occupational therapy – will likely begin right away to start giving you relief. Often a primary care physician can refer you to a healthcare provider who will customize treatments based on their assessment of your shoulder injury. This may mean a mix of at-home exercises and scheduled visits to showcase your progress.
Surgery is another story. After spending a few days in the hospital to manage pain and swelling, you may require a short-term stay at a rehab facility like Meadowood’s Holly House. Working together, a team of therapists and nursing staff help develop and/or execute personalized care plans to improve overall wellness. The goal of shoulder rehab in a facility is to coordinate a safe discharge home, allowing you to continue your recovery from the comfort of home while seeking outpatient (or sometimes in-home) support.
Regardless of whether you go to a center or right home after surgery, it’s critical to follow your medical plan about when to start rehab so you don’t cause further injury or aggravate the healing process. Many surgeries require several days of immobilization for initial rest before any rehab can begin. Shoulder recovery is also typically a phased approach, where you spend several weeks working from passive motion to full activity, with progress based on successful subsequent healing.
How to rehab a shoulder injury
If you’re a younger, more active senior, your exercises for shoulder rehab will likely be a bit more intense, allowing you to return to a more active lifestyle. For example, a golfer with a torn rotator cuff will likely complete weight lifting and resistance to rebuild strength and allow for greater movement. These may include:
- Standing row: While standing, attach a 3-foot-long resistance band to a stable object; with elbows bent and at your side, keeping your arms close to your side, slowly pull your elbow straight back, squeezing your shoulder blades as you pull.
- Trapezius strengthening: While holding a lightweight barbell (likely 1-3 lbs and building up over weeks), place your knee (opposite side of shoulder injury) on a bench or chair and lean forward, stabilizing your body with this arm/hand touching the bench/chair; holding the weight in your hand beneath your recovering shoulder, palm facing your body, slowly raise your arm, rotating your hand to the thumbs-up position and pausing when your hand is shoulder height, with your arm parallel to the floor; lower and repeat.
- Push-ups: Are push-ups good for shoulder rehab? While the answer isn’t black and white, pushups can be good for strengthening shoulders during rehab, but they can also do more damage if you cannot properly stabilize your body (especially if you didn’t regularly do push-ups before your injury). Often wall push-ups are a safer way to get the benefits of this exercise for shoulder rehab without adding insult to injury.
Older, less active adults may enroll in occupational therapy for less intense exercises for shoulder rehab. These will likely include stretching and focus on daily activities like:
- Putting away groceries or folding laundry – by going through the motions of these activities, a patient enhances their range of motion in a controlled manner, adjusting when they feel pain, like temporarily refraining from reaching up to high shelves or carrying a full basket of clothing from the dryer, building up strength over time.
- Crossover arm stretch – after relaxing your shoulders, gently pull one arm across your chest as far as possible, holding at your upper arm for 30 seconds and then relaxing for the same amount of time. Alternate arms and repeat.
- Shoulder rolls – while sitting or standing with feet shoulder width apart, raise the shoulders toward the ears, bringing them backwards and down slowly, breathing out as you bring shoulders up and back.
Is swimming good for shoulder rehab?
While swimming is often recognized as a great rehab exercise, allowing muscles to move without straining joints, it can also cause harm to your shoulders if done improperly. Be sure to consult with your physician about possible use of pool exercises for shoulder rehab.
How often should you do shoulder rehab exercises?
Frequency of exercises for shoulder rehab should also be determined by your physician or therapist. Most of the exercises noted above should be done in repetitions and sets multiple times a session and multiple times a week. Often rehab patients will have paperwork detailing their plan and exercises they can and should be doing at home between therapy visits.
Every patient is also different when it comes to the length of time to rehab. For minor shoulder issues, perhaps a few weeks will fix your problems. For more serious conditions like rotator cuff surgery, rehab takes an average of six to nine months.
Exercises for shoulder rehab as part of your personal wellness plan
At Meadowood, our award-winning Meadowell program offers a wide array of training and fitness programs that can complement your exercises for shoulder rehab. Bring your plan to our team and let us plug you into programs and augment workouts to help aid in your recovery.
The older we get, the harder rehab can become, but with the support of a community like Meadowood, we are confident that aches, pains, strains and even surgery can be overcome, allowing us to age in place and in confidence.