A shoulder is a master of mixed messages. Flexibility is important, but too much stretching can cause damage; strength is key, but be careful not to overdo it or else you'll find yourself in a world of hurt.

If you have shoulder pain, your first step is to see a doctor to rule out serious problems like a rotator cuff tear. Once you have the all-clear, you can take the next step, which is to strengthen your shoulders via smart, safe exercises.

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We turned to Michael Silverman, PT, MSPT, of the Hospital for Special Surgery, for the moves.

"These four exercises bring stability to the scapula (shoulder blade), helping to keep the ball in the socket," he said. "Strengthening the muscles that stabilize the scapula and rotator cuff will help decrease pain while increasing stability in the joint."

Schedule time to do these moves at least 3 times a week. For each move, do 3 sets of 10 to 15 repetitions each. For more of a challenge, add a 1- to 2-pound dumbbell.

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1. Lie on your stomach on a high padded table or bed with the arm on the painful side hanging toward the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blade and bring your hand up to your chest, keeping your elbow at your side. Hold for 2 seconds, then return to starting position and repeat.


2. On a bed or padded table, lie on your side on the shoulder that doesn't hurt. Tuck a rolled towel under the armpit of your painful shoulder and rest your forearm against your torso; your arm should be bent 90 degrees at the elbow. Now rotate your forearm toward the ceiling while maintaining pressure on the towel. Pause for 2 seconds, then return to starting position and repeat.

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3. Lie on your back on a bed or padded surface and hold both arms up towards ceiling with your shoulders flat. Keeping your arms straight, punch towards ceiling lifting your shoulder blades off the table. Return to starting position and repeat.

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4. Stand with your arms at your side. Slowly raise both arms up and out in a "V" until they're about 3 feet apart and shoulder high, your thumbs pointing towards ceiling. Return to starting position and repeat.

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