Physical Therapy Pulley




About: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previous life I had founded and run the Instructables Design Studio (RIP) @ Autodesk's Pier 9 Technology Center. I'm also the author ...

A few weeks ago I had shoulder surgery. Since then, I have been barely able to use my right arm. As someone accustomed to making things, this restriction has been mildly infuriating and I have been mainly sitting around depressed (filling my days with bad movies and lolcats).

Anyhow, I started physical therapy a few days ago so that some day... maybe not tomorrow... maybe not next week... maybe not any time soon... I can fully use my arm again.

During the first session the therapist pulled out this exercise pulley system that I could use to do some of the stretching. She recommended that I buy one from the center or from a sporting goods store for home use. I gave a quick glance at the setup and my first thought was "Buy!? I can make that... and with one hand no less!" and that is more or less what I did.

It was good to be making things again and surely cheaper than buying one as I only need to purchase the knob handles and the pulley (having all the other supplies on hand).

Step 1: Go Get Stuff

You will need:

A small pulley
Soft rope (that you wouldn't mind gripping)
2 Round handle knobs
2 Eye hooks to fit in knobs
8" of webbing (preferably cotton)
2 grommets
A nut and bolt that can clamp to the grommet
A 1/8" quick link
Craft glue
An Exacto knife or razor
Grommet pliers

Step 2: Handles

Make the handles by screwing the eyehooks into the screw hole in the round knobs.

...but I only have one hand!?

Well... the knobs fortunately already have the holes drilled for you. Just hold them between your knees and twist it in with your good hand.

Step 3: Grommet Time

You need to install a grommet on each of your cotton webbing.

First cut a small hole in each end that the grommet can fit into. one way to do this is carefully force the exacto knife through the fabric with your good hand and then slide the exacto knife under one slit and up through the other and cut up. Trim away the rest with scissors.

(If I were to cheat during any step of this process and use my bad arm to steady the fabric, even though I know I shouldn't, it would be to cut these holes with the exacto knife ;-)

Once you have cut the holes, insert your grommets and clamp them with the grommet pliers.

Step 4: The Stop

Insert the screw through the grommet and twist the nut on. Don't worry about tightening it too much. It doesn't need to be tight.

This is going to function as the stop to keep the strap from being pulled over the top of the door frame.

Step 5: Test

Throw the strap over your door and make sure your screw and nut combination will not be pulled through the crack at the top of the door.

Step 6: Seal the Edges

Keep your webbing strap from coming apart by dipping the ends in craft glue and letting it dry for a little while.

Step 7: Pulley

Attach your pulley to other grommet with your quick link.

Don't forget to close the lock nut.

Step 8: Tie One End

Tie your rope to one of the handles, being sure to leave a lot of extra slack. I attached mine by tying a figure-8 knot, passing the slack through the eye hook and then doubling it back through the knot. This is a very strong knot commonly used in rock climbing. You can use any knot you want.

Do not pull it tight with your bad arm. This is where the extra slack on the rope comes in!

Step on the slack and pull it tight using your good hand.

Step 9: Attach

Pull the rope through the pulley and secure the pulley to the top of the door frame.

Place your chair at the bottom of the door (should that be your exercise).

Sit in the chair and holding both ends of the rope, give it a gentle tug so that the nut and bolt catches on the other side of the door.

Hold the one knob handle with your bad arm and figure out where your good arm needs to be to pull most effectively. From this you can then figure out where on the rope you need to tie the other handle.

Step 10: Tie the Other Knob

Attach the other knob to the rope in the same manner you attached the first, allowing for slack to step on and pull the knot tight.

Step 11: Trim the Slack

Cut off the extra slack that you used for pulling the knots.

Step 12: Streeeeetch

Beat yourself back into shape.

Step 13: Design Mods

I decided I would prefer to have better handles for my system after a few days of use.

Having access to an Epilog laser cutter with a rotary attachment, I cut two 5" long acrylic rods and put a 1/4" hole in the center. I then passed the string through and knotted it to hold the handle in place.

You can accomplish the same thing without a laser cutter.

All you need is a table vice, a small handsaw and a power drill with a 1/4" drill bit.

I used acrylic because it was laser cutter safe, but if you are not using a laser cutter, feel free to use any 1" diameter tube including, but not limited to PVC, cardboard and polycarbonate.

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    14 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Holy cow this is perfect and exactly what I need.

    I have a wrist/elbow injury (nerve, technically-- hoorah, Cubital tunnel syndrome!) and one of the therapies my PT had me doing involved the pulley system to help my nerves get used to stretching properly again. I was cleared to not have to continue attending PT, which is good for my insurance-less (and recently jobless, due to said injury!) pocketbook, but the stretches helped so much...

    My beau already bought me some hand-weights for that part of my at-home PT, but now I can hopefully convince him to help me build this so I can keep doing that part of the therapy as well. Bless you, and thank you so much for posting this 'ible!


    Nice job. I had the my first shoulder sugery a year and half ago. So I decided to make one for myself as well. I hated the one in therapy because of the string between my fingers. I had the small pully at home and some scrap wood so I trimmed two pieces that were comfortable in my hands. Then I drilled two holes in each, one on each end of the handles. Once that was done I pulled one end of the rope through the first hole and back through the next and tied it off to the rope forming a triangle. You have to put a knot in the one before tying of or it will keep slide down on your hand when you pull it. The you take the other end through the pully and do the same to the other handle. I used dog chain hook on the pully to hang on a eye hook in my wall. works great and no rope burns. My wife uses it to strech as well. It worked so well I did another one with a belt strap and 2 D rings to stretch my leggs. Five weeks ago I had my second surgery and am just now starting to use it again. We are not alone. 

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Ouch! Second surgery. I'm sorry you had to do that. That sounds horrible. You should put up instructions for your version and put it in the Humana contest.

    i was worried when I put this up that no one would have use for this since it is kind of specific, but apparently there are more people like me out there who have badly screwed up their shoulder.

    The rope didn't bother me so much on the PT version since theirs was really thin, but with the version I made, it was a little more obtrusive. Perhaps if I were to ever have to do this again I would use paracord (or make your version).


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for taking the time to read my comments, as well as reply. Acknowledgement is a good thing. I believe that I will start posting instructables again, but to be honest computers and I just tolerate each other as needed. My son says I know more about computers than I like to admit. Guess I have just used them too long at work. But I will dust off my camera and drop a few for fun. Thanks again for the view of your instructable. By the way my first sugery did not take becasue of the severity of the damage I took initially was masked by back and neck pain  from an impact. Life is certainly hard but living it is FANTASTIC!!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    my dad made me one of these when i tore my rotator cuff


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Hope you feel better soon, Randy. I had a separated shoulder, a few years ago, from snowboarding. Ouch! Cool ible! FTG


    10 years ago on Introduction

    MAKE 'employees' get Video Cams and Mac Laptops Do Instructables 'employees' get laser cutters :-\? Everyone seems to have on on here now.

    randofoLithium Rain

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yes. It's published Instructables / "actual projects"... I think I can pull ahead of the current leader (Ed) on the actual project list. Noahw and Canida haven't calculated their actual project list yet, but I suspect Canida may be winning (with all her recipes). We haven't recalculated in a while. I think the count must be closer by now.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Oh.. you mean the other competition... the pull up competition... I have withdrawn from that competition (but used to weigh in with a whooping "3 + excuse of injury")

    Lithium Rain

    10 years ago on Introduction

    :'-( Sorry to hear about your surgery, Randofo. May I ask what you had surgery on? I know someone who had to have shoulder surgery and use the pulley and it is definitely not fun. Awesome that you made your own pulley though! The Maker in you must run pretty deep...

    1 reply
    randofoLithium Rain

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I had to have my shoulder duct taped back together. It kept dislocating from the socket and needed to be fixed.