Your Shoulders are amazing. Their ‘ball and socket’ structure provides an enormous range of movement enabling your arms to move in all directions with strength and coordination. However, this structure comes with a down side. Joints that have a large range of motion must sacrifice stability in order to achieve that range, leaving them vulnerable to injury. This is why so many active people suffer from shoulder pain. In fact a 2011 study concluded that up to 70% of people will experience a painful shoulder injury in their lifetime, making rehabilitation of the shoulder a frequent task for Physical Therapists. Many Physical Therapists will prescribe a simple exercise in the early stages of rehabilitation called the “Shoulder Pendulum” or “Codman” exercise after the person who first described it, Edina Codman.
What is the Shoulder Pendulum Exercise?
The shoulder Pendulum is a gentle exercise that can be done independently as a part of a shoulder rehab plan. It is prescribed in the early phases of shoulder rehab and is generally tolerated well by patients who have even the most irritable shoulder injuries.
What Do Shoulder Pendulum Exercises Do?
The shoulder pendulum has multiple benefits including:
- Preserving joint range of motion
- Preventing the development of shoulder stiffness
- Maintaining mobility of the rotator cuff and joint capsule
- Providing space in the shoulder joint for sensitive and painful structures
- Pain relief
- Increased blood flow to the shoulder joint
One of the primary benefits of the pendulum exercise is that it is passive. This means that there is very little contraction of the muscles surrounding the shoulder. This is especially important for people with serious rotator cuff injuries or surgeries. In the early stages of rehab muscle contraction is contraindicated and has the potential to further damage the tendons of the rotator cuff. A 2016 study confirmed that pendulum exercises involve very little muscle activity making them a perfect choice for early rotator cuff rehab.
Who Should do Shoulder Pendulum Exercises?
Any patient that is experiencing acute pain in their shoulder as a result of an injury or condition can benefit from pendulum exercises. In particular people suffering from rotator cuff injuries or shoulder surgeries need to use this exercise to relieve pain and preserve joint range of motion.
How Do You Do Shoulder Pendulums Correctly?
- Allow the arm to hang toward the floor and relax the muscles of the shoulder.
- Move the upper body in a gentle swaying motion from side to side - or in small circles.
- The arm moves as a result of the upper body swaying.
- Do not stiffen the arm to prevent the swing or move the arm to increase the range of movement.
- If it is done correctly the shoulder joint will feel a gentle tension. It should not be painful.
- The exercise can be performed for 2-4 minutes at a time 2-5 times per day, or as directed by your physical therapist.
Many people with painful shoulder conditions benefit from pendulum exercises in the acute phase of their injuries. The exercise has very little risk of causing any harm to the structures of the shoulder joint so almost anyone can give it a try. If you are unsure if the shoulder pendulum exercise is right for you, ask your physical therapist.