Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

How’s it hangin’? The pendulum exercise dangles the arm to ease shoulder pain

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Reader HW pointed out that my frozen shoulder book was strangely missing any reference to the “pendulum” exercise — and yet she found it to be sanity preserving. That is odd indeed, because I know the exercise well, and used it during a rough patch with an acromioclavicular joint sprain (also known as “almost ripping your arm off”).

And so, belatedly, I’ve added the pendulum-exercise blurb below to the book. No dorky science stuff today! Just this simple practical tip (something I’m forever intending to do a bit more of).

One of the best and simplest light exercises for a frozen shoulder is the “pendulum” exercise, in which you just dangle the relaxed arm and swing it gently, letting the weight of the arm carry it back forth, or in small circles. You can do this from a standing or sitting position, leaning forward to give the arm a little room. You don’t even use the shoulder muscles: the movement is generated by tiny movements of the torso, and requires only the slightest muscular effort to sustain. Just tiny nudges will keep the arm swaying like a pendulum.

This can feel very pleasant. Done right — if you’re comfortable, if you keep it easy and relaxing — the pendulum exercise may even feel good (in addition to possibly improving movement in the shoulder). That is, it may provide some minor temporary pain relief. And when things are grim, even a little relief can be precious. Reader HW.:

On my frozen shoulder journey, there were many nights when I was up at 2–4am sitting and crying. When nothing else would work, the pendulum exercise took just a tiny edge off the relentless aching pain.

Serious analgesia? No. Sanity preserving edge-removal? Absolutely.