• On Your Mark

11 Exercises for Shoulder Rehab and Injury Prevention from NYC Experts

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

Many people in New York City work desk jobs, which can make them more likely to experience chronic shoulder and neck pain. At OnYourMark, we treat many of these clients. Our physical therapy techniques and clinical massages can help those living in or near the Upper West Side deal with these nagging pains. These additional exercises, suggested by physical therapy experts in NYC, can also help to alleviate shoulder pain as well as prevent injury. Learn how to get started with physical therapy.

Shoulder, neck and upper back pain are all too common in athletes, exercise enthusiasts, construction workers and anyone who sits at a desk all day. And often times, nagging neck pain, chronic shoulder pain and a stiff upper back / thoracic spine will occur at the same time, for many reasons, and thus exercises and treatments to prevent and recover from these injuries can overlap.


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About 40% of our Active Release and Clinical / Medical Massage Therapy clients here in New York come to us for one or more of these injuries. It's a staggering number that reflects the prevalence and frequency with which people injure their shoulder and neck, whether it is from working out, job requirements, recreational activities or poor posture.

There’s no one size fits all approach to shoulder pain and injury recovery. This goes for pretty much any acute or chronic sports injury. On Your Mark NYC uses a team of licensed and certified professionals in clinical massage and personal training for injury repair. Whether you come to see us or a different provider, it is very important to keep this mind and to educate oneself and ask questions. The more informed and proactive you are in your road to recovery and injury prevention, the better the outcomes are likely to be.


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There are countless exercises available that can help improve and maintain shoulder health and that can be used in the shoulder injury recovery process. Below are some instructional videos for safe, easy to learn and effective shoulder exercises to help get you moving in a positive direction.

Which ones you'll want to use depend on whether you have had shoulder injuries in the past, prior surgeries if any, which injury you currently or previously had, how long it has lasted and how severe it is.

Your goals are also very important; if you want to rock climb versus just being able to lift your arms overhead to put the plates away, your shoulder injury recovery and injury prevention programs will differ significantly. If your goal is to swim aggressively 4 x week for 60 minutes, you may need to approach shoulder rehab differently than if you are a hair stylist, a golfer or don't exercise regularly but want to live pain-free.

Knowing what your goals are will always help you safely and effectively reach them when it comes injuries and rehab. Choosing an appropriate and practical strategy is vital to injury recovery, pain reduction and injury prevention.


Before we get into my top 11 exercises for shoulder injury prevention and recovery, it’s important to keep the following guidelines in mind. These guidelines apply to pretty much any injury recovery program, pain patterns and orthopedic goals.

  • Prevention Vs Recovery: Prevention and recovery from shoulder injury may require different exercises and protocols. Some exercises that are optimal for shoulder joint(s) health in specific athletes and those with no previous shoulder injuries may NOT be appropriate if you have already had shoulder surgery or are experiencing acute shoulder pain.

  • What is your diagnosis? Whether you have experienced chronic and repetitive shoulder pain over a long period or whether it is a new but very painful injury, your next step (if you haven’t already) may be to see a sports medicine doctor, orthopedist or physical therapist. This is especially the case if you have already tried some conservative treatments such as sports massage, dry needling and Active Release therapy.

  • No one-size-fits-all approach: The treatment and exercise protocols for a rotator cuff strain, labrum tear and frozen shoulder can be vastly different. Each person’s unique anatomy, symptoms, medical diagnosis and goals should direct one’s choice of exercises and treatments. So whether it is the exercises below, stretches a friend shows you or a video you saw of a professional athlete doing to get back on the field, make sure you are customizing the injury rehab and prevention program to your unique needs and goals.

This is where personalized massage therapy and personal training are crucial to alleviating long pent up aches and pain.

Check out our other articles on shoulder injuries, treatment and prevention.

  • Before doing any of these or other exercises to reduce shoulder pain, consult your doctor or injury recovery therapist for approval and proper technique. This is especially the case if your symptoms are particularly acute and severe. If you can't lift your arm over your head without pain or cannot sleep at night due to the pain, be careful not to just go it alone once you have a diagnosis and think you know what to do. It's always best to ensure you're doing things correctly, so don't be hesitant to get some guidance at first, even if you know that you can pretty much do it on your own long-term.

  • If it hurts, don’t do it. Whether it is the exercises below or yoga poses, an exercise in physical therapy or something your friend shows you, pain is always your guide. If it hurts, stop. There are a lot of other options out there for you. Muscle fatigue from exercise and tightness during a stretch are fine, but if a movement exacerbates your symptoms, it's probably not a good one to do at that time in the injury recovery process.

It's important to remember that it can be counterproductive to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to shoulder injury recovery or rehabilitation from any orthopedic or sports injury. So as you consider which of the exercises below to try, if you're not sure whether it's a good exercise for your specific shoulder injury, seek professional help from a injury recovery specialist. Performing exercises improperly or choosing the wrong ones for your specific goals may work against you in the short and long term.

Mark has treated thousands of clients to reduce physical pain from shoulders, lower back, neck, and more.

Call 212-729-3970 to schedule a session with Mark!

1. Shoulder EXTERNAL Rotations: Part 1

Benefits: This exercise isolates 2 of the 4 rotator cuff muscles, the Infraspinatus and Teres Minor. A strong and flexible rotator cuff is essential for shoulder joint health and shoulder injury prevention. Performing EXTERNAL rotation with the elbow by one's side is a relatively basic and beginning way to strengthen these muscles. These two muscles are important specifically for positioning the head of the humerus posteriorly (backwards) in the joint socket.


Caution: This is a very safe exercise. If you feel pain talk to your injury recovery therapist about finding an easier modification.

How: Begin with your elbow and upper arm by your side and hold a resistance cable or exercise band. Keep your elbow close to your body and slowly rotate your hand and forearm away from your body while keeping your elbow connected to your body. Be sure not to arch your low back, dip a shoulder to one side or lean forward with your upper body. Hold for 1-2 seconds at the end range before slowly rotating your arm and hand back in.

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2. Shoulder INTERNAL Rotations: Part 1

Benefits: This exercise isolates 1 of the 4 rotator cuff muscles, the Sybscapularis. A strong and flexible rotator cuff is essential for shoulder joint health and shoulder injury prevention. Performing INTERNAL rotation with the elbow by one's side is a relatively basic and beginning way to strengthen this important shoulder joint stabilizer.

This is a very important muscle for shoulder stability, especially for those who have had shoulder dislocations, shoulder joint laxity, labrum tears and rotator cuff tears. Even though this muscles internally rotates the shoulder, which for a lot of people is already part of their problem, this is still an important muscle to strengthen because the muscle might be short and weak. In this case, it will also be necessary to release any trigger points and adhesions by getting clinical massage therapy from an expert manual therapist.


Caution: This is a very safe exercise. If you feel pain talk to your injury recovery therapist about finding an easier modification.

How: Begin with your elbow and upper arm by your side and hold a resistance cable or exercise band. Keep your elbow close to your body and slowly rotate your hand and forearm towards your body while keeping your elbow connected to your body.

Be sure not to arch your low back, dip a shoulder to one side or lean forward with your upper body. Hold for 1-2 seconds at the end range before slowly rotating your arm and hand back in.

3. Shoulder EXTERNAL Rotations: Part 2

Benefits: This is the next step up for increasing strength and neurological coordination of the Infraspinatus and Teres Minor. Since so many of our daily and athletic activities require our arms and shoulders to be elevated to and above shoulder height, this exercise is more functional (and more advanced) than doing it with the arm by the side of the body. More stability and control is required to performing this movement pain-free.


Caution: Sop or modify if you feel any pinching, uncomfortable clicking or pain. You either may not be ready for this progression or just need a physical therapist or personal trainer to help correct your technique

How: Begin with your upper arm parallel to the ground at shoulder height with the elow flexed to 90 degrees. Hold a resistance cable or exercise band and begin with the forearm also parallel to the ground. While keeping your shoulder blades retracted and your elbow in line with or just in front of your shoulder, rotate your forearm backwards until it is perpindicular with the ground. Be sure not to arch your low back, dip a shoulder to one side or lean forward with your upper body. Hold for 1-2 seconds at the end range before slowly rotating your arm and hand back down.

Please keep in mind, the On Your Mark team are licensed and certified professionals in these techniques employed to reduce pain, activate muscles, increase mobility, and alleviate many common symptoms that clients have.

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4. Shoulder INTERNAL Rotations: Part 2

Benefits: This is the next step up for increasing strength and neurological coordination of the Supraspinatus. Since so many of our daily and athletic activities require our arms and shoulders to be elevated to and above shoulder height, this exercise is more functional (and more advanced) than doing it with the arm by the side of the body. More stability and control is required to performing this movement pain-free.


Caution: Stop or modify if you feel any pinching, uncomfortable clicking or pain. You either may not be ready for this progression or just need a physical therapist or personal trainer to help correct your technique.

How: Begin with your upper arm parallel to the ground at shoulder height with the elbow flexed to 90 degrees. Hold a resistance cable or exercise band and begin with the forearm perpindicular to the ground. While keeping your shoulder blades retracted and your elbow in line with or just in front of your shoulder, rotate your forearm forwards (internally) until it is parallel with the ground. Be sure not to arch your low back, dip a shoulder to one side or lean forward with your upper body. Hold for 1-2 seconds at the end range before slowly rotating your arm and hand back down.

5. Scaptions

Benefits: This exercise isolates the Supraspinatus muscle, which is one of the four rotator cuff muscles and is specifically responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint when you lift your arm over your head. Before the Upper Traps and Deltoids go into action when lifting your arm up, this muscle fires first and creates a downward force on the head of the humerus which prevents compression and impingement at the top of the joint. When this muscle is injured and weak/under-active, it can result in a very painful and debilitating shoulder impingement.


Caution: If you have an acute shoulder impingement, AC joint injury or recent dislocation, this exercise can exacerbate sy