How do I do the side-lying arm slides exercise?

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This exercise is similar to side-lying arm waves, but the arm just moves slightly differently. To perform this exercise, lie on your side with your arm extended and the thumb pointed up to the ceiling. Your entire arm should be flat on the floor. Your knees should also be bent approximately 90 degrees, but here, comfort is key. Using this as your starting position, contract your stomach and slide arm up towards your shoulder keeping your arm on flat on the ground. Go as far as you can without restriction and then return to your starting position. Perform this movement for the desired amount of repetitions. While performing this, keep a slight pinch between your shoulder blades. This stabilizes the scapula.

Rick Olderman
Physical Therapy
The side-lying arm slides exercise is a real workhorse and restores normal range of motion to the shoulder while strengthening key scapular and rotator cuff muscles. I've broken this down into a biomechanics part and strengthening part. Please begin strengthening only after you have mastered the biomechanics. Range of motion only needs to reach 110-120 degrees of flexion.

For the biomechanics phase:

Lie on your side and rest your top arm on pillows. Be sure your scapula is sitting 3 inches from the spine when beginning and upon returning to the start position. With your thumb pointed toward the ceiling, slide your hand and elbow along the pillow into an overhead position of approximately 110-120 degrees; make sure your elbow does not elevate off the pillow more than your wrist. When your elbow reaches the shoulder level, shrug your shoulder toward your ear to emulate normal overhead biomechanics. Be sure to keep your wrist at the same height or slightly higher than your elbow. Continue sliding your arm up a little higher, maintaining your shrugged shoulder and proper wrist elevation. Hold the position for 5 breaths and return. Perform 2-5 repetitions.

Common errors for the biomechanics phase include:

  • If you feel pain in your shoulder, be sure your elbow doesn't rise off the pillow higher than your wrist. Keep your arm heavy on the pillow as you slide it up into a pain-free overhead position. Only slide your arm in a pain-free range of motion.

For the strengthening phase:

Once in the overhead position, squeeze your scapula to your spine to lift your arm from the pillow. Your arm doesn't need to lift completely off the pillow -- just keep its weight off the pillow. Be sure your elbow doesn't rise above your wrist. Hold for 5 breaths. Relax your arm back into the pillow by allowing your scapula to lower it. Slide your arm back down to the starting position and repeat. Perform 3-5 repetitions.

Common errors for the strengthening phase include:

  • If you feel pain in your shoulder, your elbow may have risen higher than your wrist. Also, remember to use your scapular muscles to lift your arm, rather than your shoulder muscles.
Fixing You: Shoulder & Elbow Pain: Self-treatment for rotator cuff strain, shoulder impingement, tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and other diagnoses.

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Fixing You: Shoulder & Elbow Pain: Self-treatment for rotator cuff strain, shoulder impingement, tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and other diagnoses.

The shoulders are a floating system on the trunk, held in place and moved by muscular control. The foundation of shoulder movement is the shoulder blade which has precise resting and moving...

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.