How to Rehab a Dislocated Shoulder

by NateB11

A shoulder dislocation can be very debilitating. Found out how to rehabilitate an injured shoulder.

I remember it well. How could I forget? I was heavily into my martial arts training, there at the Dojo, and I was into some heated sparring. He grabbed me, we grappled, he brought me to the mat and, on the way down, my shoulder came out of socket.


I was on my back, I couldn't move my arm, I was hurting. An instructor sat next to me, grabbed my wrist, and carefully pulled my shoulder back into socket.

Needless to say, I had to take a rest.

But when it comes to a shoulder dislocation, you are never the same. The pain recurs and, if you are still performing strenuous activity, the shoulder can dislocate again. You really have to modify what you do to prevent re-injury.

However, it is possible to rehabilitate your shoulder.

Morguefile. Public Domain.
Morguefile. Public Domain.

Why Does the Shoulder Dislocate?

The shoulder joint is the most mobile and, therefore, unstable joint in the body. It can move laterally, horizontally and vertically, and even in a circle. If moved too far up and back or to the side and back, it can pop out of the socket, creating pain and immobility.

It is common to dislocate a shoulder while engaged in heavy physical activities and sports. Baseball pitchers throw the shoulder joint out of socket while pitching, wrestlers pull it out of socket in the middle of heated wrestling matches and, like myself, martial artists can dislocate the joint while sparring.

It pays to keep the muscles surrounding the joint strong at all times if you are going to be engaging in rough sports. Preparedness doesn’t get rid of all risk but it does get rid of some risk.

Once the injury occurs, there are ways to rehabilitate it, though.

Shoulder Rehab Exercises with Thera-Band

Lateral Raises with Light Free Weights

Strengthening Exercises to Rehabilitate Shoulder

The main point of rehabilitation of an injured shoulder is to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder and the muscles that help keep it in place. You are trying to keep it from slipping out of socket again. The injury has stretched the ligaments and torn the muscles in the area, so it becomes necessary to tighten up the area again by building muscles.

At the same time you don’t want to irritate the injury and make it worse or, worse yet, make it dislocate again.

So, it is important too, after each set of exercises that you perform to strengthen muscles around the shoulder joint, that you apply ice or an ice pack to the shoulder to ensure that there is no swelling after the shoulder area has been worked.

In addition, it is important not to extend the arm and shoulder too far up and back; that’s the movement that causes injury, because it will allow the shoulder to slip out of socket. Exercises here are designed to keep the joint from slipping at all, but still working the muscles around the joint.

Also, you don’t want to use heavy weights that will strain the area excessively. For this reason, an elastic, stretchable band of some sort is usually used rather than weights. The band provides resistance to work the muscles but not the heavy burden of weights.

I personally used latex surgical tubing during my rehabilitation. I tied a loop on each end, ran one end of the tube through a loop to attach it to a door-knob, then proceeded with my exercises. As the video above shows, you can also use a Thera-Band to do these exercises. 

In addition, I used very light weights, 3 pound dumbells, to do lateral raises or flies, making sure to keep the thumbs somewhat pointed down (at about a 45 degree angle), not to raise the arms higher than shoulder height and keeping arms somewhat forward (not directly to the sides); this ensured the joints wouldn’t be stressed and slip out. I also did bicep curls with these weights, to strengthen the biceps which also aid in support for the shoulder joint.

In addition, you can do push-ups against a wall. Doing regular push-ups on the floor is too strenuous when you are rehabbing.

Finally, I would stretch after the workout, which amounted to reaching straight up to the sky, but not at all backward.

Eventually you will strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint to keep it in place and will have relatively normal functioning again. Of course, any strenuous workout will have to be seriously modified from here on out, and you can’t expect to train at the level you were before.

If you spar, you should make sure you are conditioned to avoid injury as best you can.
If you spar, you should make sure you are conditioned to avoid injury as best you can.

Keeping It Real

It is important to remember that you can strengthen the shoulder after a dislocation, but it might never be the same. My own injury continues to cause me pain that radiates to my upper back and neck, and I am limited in what I can do.

Also, surgery has its own problems. Surgery will tighten the ligaments again around the shoulder, but often patients are left with limited mobility in the joint and recurring pain.

Your best bet is to rehabilitate the shoulder naturally with light exercises and continued care, plus modifying your activities so you don’t strain the injured area.

If you do this, you will be able to have normal functioning of the shoulder joint again as long as you approach your activities intelligently and with reasonable care.

Updated: 07/04/2020, NateB11
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