Rotator cuff exercises and stretches
Is your rotator cuff causing you shoulder pain? In this guide, we introduce you to five exercises to help you get rid of the pain and keep it from recurring. We also explain the most common causes of rotator cuff pain and how to prevent them.
What type of exercises and stretches help
Strength exercises and stretches
Typical causes of rotator cuff pain and injuries
Preventing Injuries in the Future
What to avoid if you have a rotator cuff injury
When to see a doctor
Get rid of your rotator cuff pain with Injurymap
A rotator cuff injury can put you on the sidelines or prevent you from enjoying your regular activities for weeks or even months. Rotator cuff tears occur in about 22.1% of the general population. The percentage increases as you age, so the older you get, the more likely you are to experience problems with your rotator cuff.
The rotator cuff muscles are a group of muscles at the shoulder joint. They allow you to reach your arm over your head, and they contribute to movements in swimming, baseball, tennis, and more. This group of muscles also ensures your upper arm stays in your shoulder socket, or joint, preventing a shoulder dislocation injury.
Looking for a solution to your rotator cuff pain? Try the Injurymap exercise app now.
The rotator cuff consists of four muscles, including the supraspinatus, the subscapularis, teres minor, and the infraspinatus.
The supraspinatus muscle stabilizes your upper arm, keeping it in place, and helps you lift your arm overhead.
The subscapularis muscle helps hold your upper arm in place against the shoulder blade. It also contributes to arm rotation and flexion. The teres minor muscle is the smallest rotator cuff muscle, helping to rotate the arm away from the body. Lastly, the infraspinatus muscle helps you extend and rotate your shoulder.
All in all, you wouldn’t be able to perform many movements with your shoulders without the rotator cuff. So what happens when you experience a rotator cuff injury? What exercises can help you return to health? In this article, we take a closer look at exercises and stretches that can help you recover from your rotator cuff injury. We also go through the common causes, prevention, and when you should see a doctor. Let’s take a closer look!
For a rotator cuff injury, it is critical to restore mobility, strength, and flexibility as soon as possible.
If your main remedy for your shoulder injury is rest and limited movement, you risk ending up with a frozen shoulder instead. A frozen shoulder means your shoulder joint becomes frozen in place as scar tissue encapsulates the joint. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t rest your shoulder, but it does mean that you shouldn’t stop moving all together.
Movement when experiencing a rotator cuff injury is key, if you want to avoid the dreaded frozen shoulder. Targeting the muscles of the rotator cuff with strengthening exercises can help you bounce back from injury and prevent injury recurrence.
Strengthening exercises can also contribute to better posture which, again, helps reduce your risk of a recurring shoulder injury. When everything is properly aligned, the body and its systems work as they should, meaning a decreased risk of injury and potentially less pain.
Stretches for the rotator cuff also contribute to improved mobility and flexibility, making your shoulder more resilient. In the following section, we review five exercises that can help with your rotator cuff pain, including shoulder stretching and strengthening movements.
The following five exercises can help you recover and bounce back after you’ve experienced a rotator cuff injury. If pain increases at any point during the exercise, ease off and go only to the point before pain. Further, ensure you are properly hydrated and warmed up as well before performing any of these exercises.
Why are you having rotator cuff pain in the first place? What’s going on beneath the surface? There are many common injuries involving the shoulder and the rotator cuff muscles, including the following:
A rotator cuff tear
A rotator cuff tear may happen from repetitive use. For instance, if you work a job, such as a painter, where you repeatedly reach overhead, you are more likely to experience a rotator cuff tear or a rotator cuff strain, where the muscle is stretched past its limits.
The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:
- Pain in the shoulder when lifting your arm.
- Pain when lying on your affected side.
- Weakness when trying to rotate or raise your arm.
- Crackling sensation in the shoulder during certain movements.
Tendons attach muscle to bone. Tendonitis is when these tendons become inflamed. This can occur at any of the points where the rotator cuff muscles attach to bone. Tendonitis impacting the rotator cuff muscles is sometimes referred to as swimmer’s shoulder, tennis shoulder, and pitcher’s shoulder. The symptoms of tendonitis in the rotator cuff include:
- Pain on the outside and front of the shoulder.
- Pain when lifting or lowering your arm.
- Stiffness in the shoulder.
- Clicking sounds when lifting your arm up.
- Pain when reaching behind you.
- Weakness in the affected shoulder.
- Reduced mobility in the affected shoulder.
Bursitis happens when the bursa becomes irritated or inflamed. Usually, the bursa, which are small fluid-filled sacs, protect tissues and structures by preventing friction at a joint. Similar to tendonitis, bursitis typically occurs when the shoulder is overused. Symptoms of bursitis near the rotator cuff include:+ Pain when lifting your arm or when reaching.+ Mild pain at rest.+ Pain in the front of the shoulder and side of the arm.
Rotator cuff pain and injuries can be acute or chronic conditions. In the case of a chronic rotator cuff injury, the cause is frequently due to degeneration from long-term use. This often happens with tennis players, rowers, and other individuals who frequently use their shoulders. Acute injuries, on other hand, happen due to one particular incident.
Either way, exercise is a great tool for preventing future rotator cuff pain or injuries and managing current rotator cuff pain. When exercising, many individuals often focus on the chest muscles, forgetting about the back. The back muscles, however, are equally as important since they keep the shoulders back and down and maintain proper alignment of the spine. No matter whether your injury is acute or chronic, you want to include back strengthening and rotator cuff strengthening in your program.
In addition to focusing on strengthening your rotator cuff muscles and back muscles, you should also consider the following:
- Practice good posture throughout your day-to-day, especially if you work at a desk.
- Avoid laying on your side with your arm outstretched, overhead, and underneath you. This can, over time, lead to rotator cuff problems.
- Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk of injury and reduces your ability to heal and recover quickly.
- Take frequent breaks during sports or activities involving repetitive shoulder movements.
- If pain happens in the shoulder, immediately rest and ice the area to help with healing and pain, as well as to prevent further injury.
If you have already injured your rotator cuff muscle, there are various activities and movements you should avoid to prevent worsening your condition. For instance, anyone with a shoulder injury should avoid throwing a ball, swimming with overhead movements, lifting weights overhead, or lifting weights involving the rotator cuff.
Most importantly, you shouldn’t perform any movements overhead until your pain has subsided. In the meantime, you can aim to perform the exercises listed above to help you heal and come back stronger than before.
If your shoulder pain is accompanied by difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest, seek out immediate medical attention. This could indicate a more serious problem. Further, if your shoulder joint appears deformed, you are unable to use it, you have intense pain, or you have sudden swelling at the joint, seek immediate medical attention.
These symptoms are often a sign of a more serious injury.
Think you might have a minor or moderate rotator cuff injury? Injurymap can help! The Injurymap app builds an exercise program specific to your symptoms and your needs. After injury, active recovery is important to restore function and get back to your regular activities.
The app guides you throughout your recovery, offering help and adjustments every step of the way. You can help yourself. With the right tool, it’s entirely possible to make a full recovery and reach your goals. Download the Injurymap app today!
About the author
Krista Bugden has worked as a Rehab Exercise Expert at a physiotherapist clinic in Ottawa, Canada for the past 4 years. She has an Honours Bachelor Degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She uses her extensive knowledge in this area to educate others through well-researched and informative articles. Her passions include helping others and inspiring each person she meets to get the most out of their life.