Physio Exercises for Shoulder Fractures

There are many different types of shoulder fractures (or breaks, as they are commonly known). The shoulder joint is made up of 3 bones – the scapula (shoulder blade), humerus (upper arm bone) and the clavicle (collar bone). A fracture can occur to 1 or more of these bones.

The management of these fractures will depend on the location, the severity and the displacement (how much the broken bones move apart). A fracture with no displacement, for example, may be managed by immobilising it for a period of time (usually at least 6 weeks). Whereas a fracture with large displacement is more likely to require surgery and fixation with plates and screws (or something similar).

The exercises that you would do following a fracture will depend on the type of management. However, these are some simple range of movement exercises that you can do (once you are allowed to commence moving your shoulder again – whether that be after surgery, or after a period of immobilisation).

It is very common to be quite stiff following that initial period of immobilisation, so it is important to improve your flexibility in your shoulder, to avoid developing a “frozen” shoulder. Frozen shoulder is a relatively common complication after a shoulder injury and occurs when the capsule around the shoulder joint shrinks and restricts movement. Therefore, it is important to get the shoulder moving again as soon as you are allowed. Once your movement has improved, you should then progress to strength exercises.

  • Assisted shoulder flexion with a stick

Hold onto a solid stick (e.g walking stick/broom handle) with both hands. Lift the stick up in front of you as far as comfortable. You are using the strength of your unaffected arm to help lift the injured arm. Think of it like giving your injured arm a free ride, through range of movement.

  • Assisted shoulder abduction with a stick

Hold the end of the stick with your affected arm and the middle of the stick with your unaffected arm. Use your unaffected arm to push the other arm out to the side as high as comfortable (your palm should face down as you move out to the side). Like the first exercise, remember that the uninjured arm is doing all the heavy lifting.

  • External rotation with a stick

Hold the end of the stick with your affected arm and the middle of the stick with your unaffected arm (same as previous exercise). Tuck your elbows in to your side (keep them at 90 degrees). Use your unaffected arm to push your hand (on the affected side) out to the side, without moving your elbow away from your ribs.

  • Hand behind back with a towel

Get a bath towel and flip it over your unaffected shoulder. Reach behind your back and grab onto the bottom of it with your affected arm. Use your unaffected arm to pull the towel over the front of your shoulder, this should slide your affected arm up your back (the back of your hand will slide up your back as you do this).

Repeat each of these exercises 10 times, 4 times per day. You may want to ice your shoulder after the exercises for 20 minutes, as it is common to feel some discomfort afterwards. If this discomfort doesn’t settle, you may need to back off a bit with your exercises (don’t try to push it as far).

If you need exercises for other kinds of shoulder problems, just check out our other guides by Instinct Health below:

If you feel you need further guidance on these exercises, or need more personalised advice to treat your shoulder, go ahead and set up a session with one of our physios in Camberwell.

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Physio Exercises for Shoulder Fractures