Pendulum Swing

Pendulum Swing

Showcasing a uniquely complex structure and 360-degree range of motion, the mechanics of the human shoulder feature capabilities found nowhere else in our bodies. 

If you’ve recently suffered from a shoulder injury or feel you may be at risk, the pendulum swing is something you’re going to want to know how to do. 

The pendulum swing is a commonly recommended passive shoulder exercise used in shoulder injury and surgery rehab regimens. A simple dropping and swinging movement of the rotator cuff without contraction or resistance improves the range of motion and develops muscle memory. 

Providing a safe, low impact way to allow for stability and movement of this ball and socket joint, Pendulum swings combat pain, injury, and restriction of movement in the shoulder. 

History of the Pendulum Swing 

Often referred to as the Codman exercise, as it was originally developed by Boston surgeon Ernest Armory Codman in 1934, the pendulum swing has been used in physical therapy since. 

Codman was a pioneer in many areas of the medical field as it relates to injury, surgery, and rehabilitation, including radiology, anesthesiology, ulcer surgery, shoulder surgery, and orthopedic oncology. 

An advocate for innovation and hospital reform, he was the first American physician to follow the recovery process of his patients in a systematic manner. He developed the basis for the concept of outcomes management in patient care and is widely recognized as its founder. 

Having invented a system by which to keep track of his patients called “End Card Results,” he was able to record demographic data on all his patients as well as the diagnosis, treatment, and outcome. 

This process, though now streamlined and automated, is still in use today as a means to identify clinical oversights and considerations for the improvement of care in future patients. He was also a large proponent of making this information shareable among all physicians and hospitals. 

How to Perform a Pendulum Swing

*As with anyone considering a new exercise, if you are currently or chronically experiencing back pain, refrain from performing this exercise until you have consulted a physician.

Step 1: Stand, holding onto a stabilizing object with your good arm, such as a chair back, ledge, or table. 

Step 2: Bend forward slightly, allowing your injured arm to hang limp. 

Step 3: Without engaging your arm muscles, utilize momentum from a rocking motion through the hips and legs to create a swinging back-and-forth pendulum movement. 

Step 4: Manipulating your arm via rotating motions throughout the hips and legs, create a circular swinging motion in the arm with small revolutions the size of a dinner plate.  

Perform this exercise for 5 minutes at a time 5-7 times daily.


Pendulum swings have been identified as an aid in the rehabilitation of the 4 muscles surrounding the shoulder joint that make up the rotator cuff: 

  1. Subscapularis
  2. Teres minor
  3. Supraspinatus 
  4. Infraspinatus

Pendulum swings are typically recommended in the treatment and rehab for:

  • Shoulder dislocations
  • Rotator cuffs tears
  • Collarbone fractures
  • Labral tears
  • Adhesive capsulitis/frozen shoulder


There are two main variations to the pendulum swing:

  • Lying pendulum exercises: These can be used in cases where upright mobility is limited.
  • Weighted pendulum exercises: After you’ve mastered the basic pendulum and circular motions and can perform them with minimal pain, adding weights further aids in the rehabilitation process. 

Swing Your Way to Shoulder Health

As with most injuries, we don’t realize how much we rely on our shoulders in our day-to-day activities until doing so becomes difficult or causes pain.  The dynamic movements our shoulders complete coupled with the frequency of use mean there is a greater chance of injury. 

If you are someone who regularly puts stress on your shoulders or works them hard in the gym, talk to your doctor to see if pendulum swings can help you prevent a shoulder injury.  

These exercises mimic the movement of a clock pendulum and are excellent rehabilitation tools after a shoulder injury. They use gravity and momentum to create motion rather than muscle strength.

This technique promotes healing and allows for a range of motion movement without straining the newly repaired or damaged structures. It’s important to do these exercises correctly since active range of motion exercises, those that use muscle strength, are often contraindicated in early recovery stages.

Always consult your doctor or physical therapist before beginning an exercise program. If these activities cause an increase in pain, stop immediately and seek help. If you have increased swelling or numbness in your hand or arm, stop the exercise and take a break before trying it again. It’s important to allow the shoulder adequate time to heal after an injury. Follow all recommendations made by your doctor to prevent reinjury.

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