Rotator Cuff Exercises: If you have a rotator cuff tear, you’re not alone. It happens to millions of people every year. It’s a common cause of shoulder pain. The right treatment can make you feel better, keep a small injury from getting worse, and help you heal. For many people, physical therapy (PT) is the answer. It may be all you need to treat an injured rotator cuff.
Exercises For Rotator Cuff
As sports fans and athletes alike know, shoulder injuries are serious business. They can be extremely painful, limiting, and slow to heal.
A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that stabilize the shoulder and allow it to move. Physical therapist and founder of WebPT Heidi Jannenga says you should visualize the head of the arm bone as a golf ball, and the area of the shoulder blade as a golf tee. She says, “The rotator cuff serves as a sleeve that enables the ball to spin and roll while remaining on the tee.”
The most common rotator cuff injuries are impingements and tears.
- Impingement: An impingement occurs when a rotator cuff muscle swells and cramps the space between the arm and shoulder bones, causing pinching. Muscle strain, other overuse injuries, and bone spurs are common causes of swelling.
- Tear: A less common injury, a rotator cuff tear occurs when a rotator cuff tendon or muscle is torn. Most tears will not require surgery.
Repetitive, overhead motions can wear down the rotator cuff muscles and are thus a common cause of injury. This is why athletes such as baseball pitchers frequently have shoulder issues. A traumatic injury, such as falling onto your arm, can also cause injury. Regardless of how it happens, the risk of a rotator cuff tear increases as we age, and the wear on our bodies accumulate.
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Rotator Cuff Tear Exercises
Is PT for Me?
If you think you have a tear, see your doctor. He may send you to someone who treats bones, joints, muscles, and tendons called an orthopedic doctor. She can talk to you about surgical and nonsurgical options, including PT.
Unless the injury is severe, PT is a typical starting point. Your physical therapist will ask questions about your life and the things you do. He’ll do some tests to learn more about your pain. The therapist will ask you to raise your arm, move it to the side, or push against something to see what your limits are. PT helps in lots of ways. One study shows that people who got PT for a rotator cuff tear did just as well as those who had surgery.
Exercises that involve pressing your arm against a wall can help strengthen the muscles that make up your rotator cuff. With your elbow at a 90-degree angle, put the palm of your hand on the side of a wall or door frame that’s in front of you (A). Place a folded towel between your side and upper arm. Your goal is to keep the towel there as you press your palm against the wall or doorframe for several seconds. For the second exercise, keep the towel in place (not shown) and shift your body so that you’re standing next to a wall (B). With your elbow at a 90-degree angle, press your elbow and forearm against the wall for several seconds. Repeat each exercise 10 times for five sets.
Torn Rotator Cuff Exercises To Heal
Most rotator cuff injuries are overuse injuries from repetitive overhead motions.
People who are prone to rotator cuff injuries include athletes who play baseball or tennis and people with jobs, such as house painting or construction, that require repetitive overhead motions.
Rotator cuff overuse often leads to rotator cuff impingement, which is the pinching of one of the rotator cuff tendons, or other soft tissue, that runs through the space between the upper arm bone, or humerus, and the shoulder blade, or scapula.
Impingement can occur when muscle strain and other overuse injuries cause swelling in the shoulder joint, decreasing the space between these bones.
People may sometimes tear one of the tendons or muscles in the rotator cuff, although this is less common than overuse injuries. Rotator cuff tears may be very painful, but most of the time, they will heal with rest and strengthening exercises.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, following a conditioning program helps a person return to daily activities in addition to any sports and other recreational activities that they were participating in before the injury.
Try using the “RICE” method immediately following an injury: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation work together to reduce pain and swelling. Once the swelling has gone down and your arm is no longer painful to move, certain exercises can help you heal and prevent issues such as “frozen shoulder” or loss of range of motion. These exercises include:
- doorway stretch
- side-lying external rotation
- high-to-low rows
- reverse fly
- lawn mower pull
If you are comfortable adding weight to these exercises, try using a light dumbbell or resistance band for repetitions. If you do not have a light dumbbell, try using a can of soup.
Rotator Cuff Injury Exercises
To do arms reach, a person should do the following:
- Lie flat on the back, extend the arms and legs, and engage the abdominal muscles.
- Reach one arm toward the ceiling, lifting it until the shoulder blade comes off the floor.
- Hold for 5 seconds.
- Return arm to the floor.
- Repeat on the other side.
Lying down the external rotation
- Lie on the side of the body on a firm surface, holding a lightweight in the upper hand.
- Bend the top elbow to 90 degrees, keeping the upper arm against the side of the body and letting the weighted hand rest toward the floor in front of the body.
- Keeping the elbow against the side of the body, rotate the arm at the shoulder, bringing the weight toward the ceiling.
- Slowly lower the weighted arm back to the starting position.
- Repeat on the other side of the body.
- Place a small towel roll in the armpit while doing this exercise to reduce stress on the shoulder joint.
- Lean forward with one arm hanging freely. Use the other arm to brace against a chair for support.
- Gently swing the hanging arm from side to side, forward and back, and in a circular motion.
- Slowly return to a standing position.
- Repeat on the other side.
Crossover arm stretch
The crossover arm stretch involves the steps below:
- Lift one arm so that it is perpendicular to the floor and extend it straight without locking it.
- Take the wrist of the extended, lifted arm with the opposite hand.
- Gently pull the arm across the front of the body, trying to hug the chest with the arm.
- Hold the stretch for 5 seconds before slowly releasing it.
- Repeat on the other side.
What exercises for rotator cuff injury?
Lie down on the side opposite your injured arm. Bend the elbow of your injured arm to 90 degrees and rest the elbow on your side. Your forearm should rest across your abdomen. Hold a light dumbbell in the injured side’s hand and, keeping your elbow against your side, slowly raise the dumbbell toward the ceiling.
What is the best treatment for rotator cuff injury?
Pain control usually is the goal of treatment. This can be accomplished with rest and acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Physical therapy and range-of-motion exercises may be helpful with the goal of maintaining shoulder function and strength.