Physical Therapy and Shoulder Pain

hoob1jpg-5dd85fd15bea6e75 - CopyYou feel it every time you reach over your head or try to throw a ball with your kid; the dreaded shoulder pain. Turns out, shoulder pain is one of the most common reasons people visit an orthopedic surgeon (with “impingement syndrome” being the most common diagnosis). Not only is it painful, but chronic shoulder pain can hinder your ability to work, exercise, and take part in a plethora of leisure activities.

Without knowing where to turn, lots of us are quick to jump to pain medication or surgery for relief, but few realize that exercise and physical therapy can make a huge impact, and it can actually fix the problem in the long-term. We asked Portland area Physical Therapist, Colin Hoobler to weigh in on the benefits of physical therapy when treating shoulder pain, and here’s what he had to say.

“Research tells us that physical therapist-led exercise therapy is as effective as surgery in the long-term, decreasing pain and boosting function after three to eight weeks (J Rehab Med 2009). When combined with manual therapy, exercise therapy can reduce pain faster than surgery, boosting your quality of life (BMJ 2010).

Key exercise therapy components include:

  1. Strengthening your rotator cuff and upper middle back. Your rotator cuff muscles (there are four) keep your upper arm bone safely within your shoulder socket during arm motion, preventing pinching of sensitive tissues. Upper middle back muscles help maintain posture, which also helps minimize shoulder impingement risk. The incline dumbbell row is a great exercise you can do with minimal equipment to strengthen the upper back and neck.
  2. Lengthening your shoulder and chest muscles. A tight shoulder is a painful shoulder, so stretching daily can help improve flexibility so forces are more evenly distributed.
  3. Manual therapy. A physical therapist skilled in manual therapy can work wonders before you do your exercises to reduce pain and tightness.

Despite compelling research, many people with shoulder pain do not receive effective exercise guidance to reduce pain and fix the underlying problem (Eur J Phys Rehab Med 2013). As a result, they continue to have chronic shoulder pain after relying on medication and/or surgery due to faulty intrinsic shoulder mechanics.

Learning how to safely and effectively treat your own shoulder conservatively probably will take several weeks, but the long-term benefits are well worth the effort.”

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Learn more from Colin at his clinic: “Overcoming Shoulder Pain: a New Approach” on October 19th

If you live in the greater Portland area, and you’d like to learn more about physical therapy from Colin, he’s hosting a workshop at his Beaverton Clinic on October 19th. All proceeds from the event will benefit Bonnie Slope Elementary School, and you’ll learn how to effectively use exercise to treat your nagging shoulder pain. To learn more, visit

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