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June 19, 2019

Are Shoulder Pulleys Good for Physical Therapy?

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​If you're wondering if shoulder pulley physical therapy can cure your shoulder problems, continue reading this article. 

Regardless of your specific shoulder injury, one tool that can help you on your path to recovery is a shoulder pulley. But what are shoulder pulleys? How do you set them up? Are they really useful for physical therapy? And what are the best shoulder pulleys out there?

​Let's find out.

​What is a Shoulder Pulley? 

​First things first, a shoulder pulley is a tool used to improve mobility in the shoulders, ​very common in physical therapy clinics.

It looks like a jump rope, except with a pulley and strap in the middle. The strap is meant to attach to a door frame.

shoulder pulley physical therapy image

When properly set up, the handles will hang on ​the sides, and you can perform various simple exercises​ by pulling on the handles. When you pull on one side, the other side will rise, ​benefiting both of your arms. 

Shoulder pulley physical therapy revolves around using this equipment on a scheduled regime.

It provides range of motion to the shoulders where you actively participate. At the same time, if you have one arm that's injured and can't perform the full motion of raising the arm overhead, then the shoulder pulley can allow you to provide what's called an...Active Assisted Range of Motion or Passive Range of Motion. 

This is a great way to do physical therapy at home and on your own.  

​The Benefits of Shoulder Pulley Physical Therapy: 

As you probably know, shoulder injuries are quite common, and a major frustration for most people. To understand why these pulleys work, we need to take a look at the shoulder joint itself. 

See, the shoulder needs constant movement to remain healthy. It's what some people describe as a self-lubricating system of joints. ​So if there's no movement, there's no lubrication, and that creates issues.

If you're struggling with chronic shoulder pain, a shoulder pulley could be an excellent idea. Let's run through some of the benefits of shoulder pulleys.

1. Improves Range of Motion (ROM):

If you feel like your shoulders don't have the usual rage of motion due to muscle stiffness or injuries, shoulder pulleys can help. With this tool you can gently stretch areas of your shoulder that are suffering from lack of range of motion.

The best part is you can control the pressure and angle. There are plenty of shoulder pulley rage of motion exercises! This is one of the most common reasons people buy shoulder pulleys.

As mentioned earlier, you can use shoulder pulleys to provide range of motion to an injured arm that's not fully working in order to maintain and/or improve that range of motion. This is something that is vital to do after having a shoulder injury.

man doing shoulder pulley physical therapy exercises

2. Increase Shoulder Strength:

In most cases, when it comes to recovering from shoulder injuries, Physical Therapists or Occupational Therapists (you may see one or the other depending on the clinic or hospital setting you go to) will recommend range of motion exercises first, and then progress to strength training exercises.

Shoulder pulleys are great for shoulder strength training because not only can you adjust the resistance but also get a nice muscle stretch after each repetition. These shoulder exercises are very simple and great for everyone, including the elderly.

And shoulder pulley exercises alone will be sufficient to help restore your shoulder strength to functional levels.

P.S. Take a look at our recommend Gait Belt.

3. Eliminate Frozen Shoulder Condition:

The symptoms of frozen shoulder condition include stiffness and joint pain, common for people over 40 years old. Over time the condition can get worse, until your shoulder mobility is strictly limited. Regular use of shoulder pulleys can improve a frozen shoulder.

Those are just a few of the many benefits ​of this exercise equipment. They also work well to rehabilitate torn muscles. If you're considering buying a shoulder pulley, let's first run through how to set one up so you know what to expect.

​How to Attach a Shoulder Pulley to a Door: 

​The exact method to attach a shoulder pulley to a door varies depending on the product you purchase. Overall, most door shoulder pulley can be installed in a similar manner. 

​To attach a shoulder pulley to a door, locate the strap or metal bracket, and place it over the top of your door. Next, close the door, and the pulley should be stuck in place. Very simple.

shoulder pulley metal door bracket

A couple of pointers to keep in mind, always remember to properly close the door, or the pressure from the shoulder pulley will open it. ​Consider locking ​your door when you're using the equipment. Metal door brackets are generally more secure, but straps can work just as well.

On that note, most of the metal brackets include either rubber or a sponge-like material on the surface to protect your door from scratches. Long story short, don't worry about your door being damaged.

You should also pay attention to the gap between the top of your door and the door-frame, if it's too large, the pulley might wobble or slide out of place. The taller the door, the better. 

Our Recommended Shoulder Pulleys: 

Not sure where to start? Here is a list of our recommended choices.

1. Blue Ranger Door Shoulder Pulley:

​As far as door pulleys go, this is one of the most basic models out there. Currently, there are two versions; metal bracket and web-strap door bracket.

The handles are plastic and use a notch system, where you can simply pull the rope and lock it to the desired length. As you might imagine, the rope is a blue, with no other color choices.

Overall, a decent choice. I recommend the metal bracket version.

2. Range Master Econo Range Shoulder Pulley:

This shoulder pulley is quite similar to the one above. It has two versions, metal bracket and web-star, but the handles are slightly different.

The handles on this model look like wooden pegs, and you have to tie a knot each time to adjust the length of the rope. Although it's a bit inconvenient, some people prefer the feel of wood handles rather than plastic. The rope color is white. 

3. PrePak Home Ranger Pulley:

​PrePak's version is similar to the above products, except it lacks the metal bracket option. One thing to note about this product the box includes an exercise book to help you out.

​It also has similar handles as the Blue Ranger, plastic and brackets, so you can easily adjust the rope length. Overall, it's a good product, although it doesn't have a metal bracket.

Final Thoughts... 

If you feel your shoulders are stiff and sore, I highly recommend shoulder pulley physical therapy systems like the ones listed above. They're very cheap, and the benefits far outweigh the downsides. There's no good reason not to have one.

Overall, shoulder pulleys are very useful tools that you probably haven't heard of until now. Choose one of our three recommended choices, use it every day, and soon your shoulders will stop bothering you. 

Thanks for taking the time to read our article about shoulder pulleys for physical therapy. If you have any questions about this equipment leave a comment below and I'll do my best to answer. 

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Todd is an Occupation Therapist and Internet Marketer. He inspires to help others improve their lives through therapy and online education.

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  1. My husband had a stroke back in 2014. He had therapy, but now he has to continue them at home. His whole right side was affected. His arm is contracted and his fingers are to. Will the door pulley help with this?

    1. Hi Maggie,

      Sorry for the late reply. Absolutely, as long as his Right side/affected shoulder does not sag or is loose from the shoulder joint.

      Many times the Supraspinatus Muscle is affected and this muscle holds the arm bone (Humerus Bone) into the shoulder joint when a person raises their arm over their head. So if this is not tight to the should joint and you use the pulleys, this can be harmful to the shoulder and do damage to the shoulder muscles.

      If this is the case, he just needs supervision while doing the exercise and for you, or someone, to approximate or hold the arm close into the shoulder joint while he’s going through the shoulder pulley motion.

      If his shoulder joint is tight and doesn’t sag, then he can do the shoulder pulleys with less supervision.

      The benefits to the shoulder pulley are really range of motion, strength and ease of movements with things like dressing (don/doffing shirts).

      Have your home therapist supervise this task and give any pointers. But know this, the more input into the affected side including mentally focusing on the moment or task, the better long term results he’ll get. It can be a challenge, but don’t discount the human spirit and the body’s ability to recover.

      My late Grandma had a devastating stroke and after months of rehab, she had an extra year plus at home working on doing her daily tasks. She was a stubborn women, but got all her abilities back. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but you got to give hope and hard work a chance.


  2. I like how you mentioned that physical therapy can include shoulder pulley exercises to restore shoulder strength. My brother is having surgery on his shoulder next week due to a bad injury from baseball. I’ll have to share this with him so he knows what kind of exercises to do after his surgery to get back on his feet and pitching again.

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