Range Of Motion Exercises for the Shoulder, Knee, & More!

Injury, age, and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to muscle tension and stiffness. That’s why physical therapists often recommend stretching and light exercise for injury recovery – it keeps the joints and muscles as loose as possible. If you’re suffering from muscle tension and stiffness in your shoulders and knees, range of motion exercises may help reduce pain while improving strength and stability. We’re going to share some range of motion exercises for the shoulder and range of motion exercises for the knee that you can use to loosen tight, stiff joints.

Benefits of Range of Motion Exercises & Why You Should Do Them

range of motion exercises for the shoulder knee more stretches for the shoulder man at physical therapist

Why should you bother incorporating range motion exercises into your routine? Whether your joints are healthy or you’re suffering from mobility issues due to injury or age, there are many benefits to improving your range of motion.

Greater Movement at the Joint

Just as the name suggests, range of motion exercises improves the joint’s range of motion. For example, let’s say that you can only lift your arm halfway above your head. Doing range of motion exercises for your shoulder can help increase movement at the shoulder joint. Eventually, you’ll be able to lift your arm above your head. 

When you have greater movement in your joints, you can do more of the things you love, making everyday tasks safer and less painful.

Healthy joints require a full range of motion to maintain the cartilage and other structures of the joint area. In addition, increased blood supply provides these areas with the oxygen and nutrients they need for optimal health.

Less Pain

Improving your range of motion can also help with your pain. For example, lengthening and opening up your muscles alleviates tension and reduces the risk of muscle cramps.

One study found that improving your flexibility (i.e., your range of motion) helps improve pain tolerance.

Improved Mobility

Muscle tension and poor range of motion can affect your mobility. For example, when your knees and shoulders are stiff and tight, it can be challenging to walk and move without pain or discomfort. 

Improving the range of motion in your knees and ankles will make it easier to walk. Your joints will move more freely, and the improved stability will help improve your balance and coordination. 

When you have a greater range of motion in your shoulders, it will be easier and less painful to reach for things or bend down to pick items up off of the floor. 

Having greater flexibility will make your life easier and less painful. 

Less Risk of Injury

Range of motion exercises can help improve the strength, stability, and movement of your joints. As a result, your balance and coordination will naturally improve, and this alone will help reduce the risk of injury.

Alleviating muscle tension can further help reduce injury.

Range of Motion Exercises for the Shoulder

range of motion exercises for the shoulder knee more shoulder pain stretches at physical therapy

There are several range of motion exercises you can perform to improve flexibility and strength in your shoulders, including:

Table Slides

The table slide is a simple exercise that you can perform to improve the range of motion in your shoulders. 

  • Start with your forearm on the table, palms facing down and elbow bent at a 90-degree angle.
  • Gently and carefully slide your arm forward until it’s straight out in front of you.
  • Repeat on the other side.

This exercise will help increase the upward range of motion in your shoulders, but gently.

Arm Elevation

Arm elevation is another simple exercise that doesn’t require any equipment. You can perform this exercise in a bed or on the floor.

  • Start by laying down on your back.
  • Lift your right arm up so that it’s perpendicular to the floor.
  • Clasp your right wrist with your left hand.
  • Use your left hand to guide your right arm up towards your face. 
  • Repeat on the other arm.

Eventually, with continued stretching and practice, you should be able to stretch your arms above your head.

Internal Rotation

Improving the internal rotation of the shoulder can help alleviate tension and pain. This exercise can be performed anywhere. Here’s how it works:

  • Place your right forearm behind your lower back, palms facing up.
  • You should feel a stretch in your shoulder.
  • Raise your palm up towards the shoulder blades as far as you comfortably can.
  • Lower and repeat on the other side.

Range of Motion Exercises for the Knee

range of motion exercises for the shoulder knee more man at physical therapy doing stretches for knee

The knees are one of the most important joints in the body, and they take a beating throughout your life. Range of motion exercises can help kick pain to the curb and keep your knees healthy and strong.

Some helpful range of motion exercises for the knees include:

Long Arc Quad

The long arc quad exercise helps improve strength in the knees, but it also increases your range of motion.

  • Start by sitting in a chair or at the end of the bed with your knees bent and feet parallel to the floor.
  • Raise your right foot until your shin is in line with your thigh.
  • Hold for 3-5 seconds, and lower the leg back down.
  • Perform two sets of 15 reps.
  • Repeat on the other leg.

Heel Slides

If you’re recovering from an injury or just want to maintain a healthy range of motion in your knees, heel slides are a great option.

  • Sit down on the floor with your feet straight out in front of you.
  • Wrap a towel around the ball of your foot.
  • While holding onto each end of the towel, gently and slowly slide your foot up towards your hips while bending your knee.
  • Hold for a few breaths.
  • Gently and slowly slide your foot back down to the starting position.

Repeat this exercise 10 times on each leg.

Range of Motion Exercises for the Ankle

range of motion exercises for the shoulder knee more exercise for ankle pain woman at physical therapy

Improving the range of motion in your ankles can improve your balance, stability, and mobility. Some of the best range of motion exercises for the ankle include:

Ankle Pumps

  • Sit down with your feet out in front of you.
  • Move your foot up and down as if you were pressing down and letting up on the gas pedal of a car.
  • Repeat this 10-15 times on each ankle.

Ankle Circles

  • While sitting in a chair, start making circles with your foot.
  • Start by moving clockwise.
  • Repeat in a counterclockwise motion.

Ankle Inversion and Eversion

  • While sitting comfortably, start moving your foot from left to right like a windshield wiper.
  • Keep your knee stable during this exercise. 

The Takeaway

Range of motion exercises can help improve your flexibility, joint stability, and strength while reducing your risk of injury and pain. Use these exercises to help improve the range of motion in your shoulders, ankles, and knees.

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