How Shoulder Pulleys Help Healing and Range of Motion

Person with shoulder injury

Nobody loves a shoulder injury. They’re never fun and they’re never convenient. When a patient presents to their doctor with a shoulder injury, they’re already dealing with pain and/or physical limitations. Any medical treatment is going to be another burden on top of that. The good news, though, is that patients seeking medical help are motivated to resolve the problem. And when they understand that a physical therapy program can ease the recovery progress and improve the outcome, they are more likely to comply with instructions from their PT.

That’s not to say that it’s easy. Patient compliance with prescribed at-home therapy exercises is notoriously low. There are steps that a therapist can take to improve adherence, though, and finding exercises that are both helpful and easy to perform remains a key part of the equation.

There are many ways a shoulder can go wrong, and for many of these conditions, shoulder pulleys are just what the doctor ordered. These tried and true exercise devices are affordable, effective, and easy for patients to use on their own at home.

What Is A Shoulder Pulley Good For?

A key concern related to many shoulder injuries is maintenance or improvement of range of motion (ROM). Coupled with this concern is the desire to avoid aggravating or worsening any existing injuries. A favored treatment among physical therapists therefore is passive range of motion exercises, where the patient fully relaxes their muscles while the therapist manually moves the affected limb to take a joint safely through its ROM. This helps to prevent stiffness and the build-up of scar tissue while still allowing the surrounding muscles, bones, and ligaments to rest and heal.

Fortunately for the patient, shoulder pulleys allow them to replicate these range of motion exercises when they’re home alone, at work, or otherwise away from their PT’s office.

Four Conditions that Shoulder Pulleys Can Help Heal

Not every shoulder injury calls for the use of a shoulder pulley, and a shoulder pulley is most useful only during particular stages of recovery. Still, there are a wide range of injuries where shoulder pulleys can be of benefit to patients and to therapists looking to increase exercise compliance and improve recovery outlook.

Clavicle Fracture

Fractures — A fracture of the clavicle or humerus will require an extended period of shoulder immobilization at the very least, if not surgery. This is a classic example of an injury needing passive range of motion exercises. You need to keep the arm in a sling to eliminate the stresses that might re-injure the break. But this immobilization can lead to loss of ROM. Once the injury is stable enough to begin passive ROM exercises, patient training in use of a shoulder pulley can begin.

Rotator cuff problems

Rotator Cuff Injuries — As with fractures, rotator cuff injuries require rest to allow healing to begin. Whether it’s bursitis, tendonitis, or tears, whether the injury is severe enough for surgery or not, it’s going to need some immobilization — and thus some passive range of motion exercise as a counterbalance. Are shoulder pulleys a safe and effective means of ROM for rotator cuff injuries? Yes!

Shoulder replacement surgery

Shoulder Replacement Surgery — For extreme injuries, total shoulder replacement surgery may be the best option. Once again, treatment requires rest, and rest implies the need for range of motion exercises for a full recovery. Fortunately success rates are high for this type of surgery. Passive range of motion exercises (ie shoulder pulleys) can be called for during the first two months after the procedure.

Adhesive capsulitis

Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder) — Unlike the previous three examples, immobilization of the shoulder is not a protocol for treatment of adhesive capsulitis — it’s a symptom of the condition itself. This gradual, sometimes painful stiffening and loss of range of motion over the course of months can take years to heal. But joint mobilization and passive range of motion exercises are important to recovery. It’s a long slog, made much easier when the patient has access to a shoulder pulley for use whenever they need it.

Using A Shoulder Pulley for Increased Range of Motion

For many shoulder injuries, rest and immobilization are critical. But that immobilization can lead to stiffness and range of motion deficiencies. With proper training by a physical therapist, patients will be able to safely use shoulder pulley devices to replicate passive range of motion exercises at their own convenience, as often as advised by the PT.

Proper training and access to a shoulder pulley make patient compliance more likely, leading to improved outcomes for both patients and therapists.