Physical Therapy Exercises for the Upper Arm

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According to AAOS, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 7.5 million people saw their doctor for a shoulder problem in 2006. AAOS points out that upper extremity problems can be caused by anything from playing sports to simply doing household tasks like washing walls. If you report shoulder pain to your doctor, you are likely to be referred to a physical therapist for treatment.

Assisted Exercise

If you are experiencing pain, a physical therapist will often prescribe assisted exercises for your arms first. The exercise is “assisted” because you will use the one arm to move the other through a comfortable range of motion. This allows your shoulder to move freely without stressing your muscles, tendons or ligaments. To go through assisted shoulder flexion, find a dowel that is roughly three feet long and hold it in your right hand at one end; with your other hand, grasp the dowel in the center. Relax your right shoulder and allow your left arm to push it straight in front of your body through a pain-free range of motion. Repeat for the opposite arm.

Isometric Exercise

Isometric exercises are used by physical therapists to begin strengthening the muscles of your upper arm. During an isometric exercise you will contract the muscle you are targeting without moving any joints. According to the “Journal of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy,” strength in the external rotators of your shoulders is extremely important in the rehabilitation of upper arm injuries. To strengthen your external rotators, stand so your shoulder and the length of your arm are touching a wall. Bend your elbow to 90 degrees while keeping the arm against the wall. Press into the wall with the back your hand -- concentrate on your shoulder acting as a hinge so the pressure is on your hand, not your elbow. Hold the contraction for five seconds, rest and repeat 10 times on each arm.

Active Exercise

Active exercises involve contracting your muscles to move joints through a range of motion. Weak elbow flexors in your upper arm could lead to shoulder injury. To strengthen your elbow flexors actively, sit or stand with your elbows straight and your palms facing forward. Lift your hands up to your shoulders and slowly lower them to your sides. If this motion is easy, hold a light dumbbell in each hand. You can lift both arms at the same time or one at a time. Begin with three sets of 10.


Stretching muscles in addition to strengthening them is very important for the function of your upper extremities. To stretch your elbow flexors, sit on the floor or on top of a mat with your arms behind you -- your palms should be touching the floor with your fingers pointing away from your body. Scoot your hips forward so they are further away from your hands; you should feel a stretch in your biceps. When you feel a light stretch, hold the position for 30 seconds, rest and repeat three times.