Are There Any Exercises for a Rotator Cuff Injury?

Reviewed on 8/12/2021
exercises rotator cuff
Here are three effective exercises to help you recover from your rotator cuff injury.

Yes, there are a few simple exercises for a rotator cuff injury. But, it is extremely important to perform these exercises slowly to avoid increased pain. You should also work closely with your doctor or physical therapist to be sure that you are performing all the exercises correctly. This will help you gain maximum benefit from the exercise without further injuring your rotator cuff.

Pendulum

  1. This exercise uses only the weight of your arm for resistance and is gentle on your rotator cuff.
  2. Lean forward and keep your hand on a table or counter for support. 
  3. Gently swing your affected arm back and forth, side to side and in a circle.

Overhead stretch

  1. Stand at an arm’s length away from support such as a chair and grasp onto it with both hands.
  2. Bend downward from your waist and also slightly at the knee with your stretched arms on the chair.
  3. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and come back to your original standing position.

Wall climbing (to the front) or finger walking

  1. Stand straight (do not arch your back).
  2. Stand at less than an arm’s length away from a wall with your fingers just touching it.
  3. Keep your shoulders relaxed.
  4. Move your fingers up the wall as if you are walking your fingers up. Take them as high as your pain permits.
  5. Hold your arm in that position for 15 to 30 seconds.
  6. Slowly walk your fingers back down to where you started.
  7. Repeat and try to reach a higher position on the wall each time.

Repeat each exercise two to five times four to six days a week.

Stay in touch with a physical therapist who can guide you on more, tougher exercises as per your condition.

Can you self-heal an injured rotator cuff?

Ideally, you should not try to self-heal your rotator cuff injury and, instead, seek a medical opinion early. A doctor can identify if a tear is the cause of the pain and can tell if you will need steroid injections or surgery.

Most rotator cuff injuries do not require surgery. As such, your doctor may recommend treatments such as:

Even if a rotator cuff injury such as a tear does not completely heal, you can expect to achieve good function with the above measures.

Surgery is always necessary when you are involved in sports activities that involve extensive use of your shoulder.

How do you tell if your rotator cuff is torn or strained?

Rotator cuff injuries are quite common and can occur at any age. However, you are more likely to get one if you are involved in activities such as volleyball and basketball, which require overuse of the overhead of your shoulder. Aging also makes the rotator cuff wear and tear.

You can tell if your rotator cuff is torn or strained if you are experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Pain when you are resting on the affected shoulder
  • Pain when lifting objects
  • Pain while lowering your arm
  • Weakness in the shoulder when lifting or rotating your arm
  • A crackling sensation during certain movements of the shoulder

An X-ray can detect extra growths on the bones known as bone spurs, which may irritate the rotator cuff and cause inflammation and pain. However, they cannot detect a rotator cuff tear, which can only be detected with the help of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or ultrasound.

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References
Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Conditioning Program. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/recovery/rotator-cuff-and-shoulder-conditioning-program/

Rotator Cuff: Exercises. https://healthy.kaiserpermanente.org/health-wellness/health-encyclopedia/he.rotator-cuff-exercises.ad1509

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