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Rotator cuff exercises

Shoulder exercises

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that form a cuff over the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons hold the arm in its joint and help the shoulder joint to move. The tendons can be torn from overuse or injury.

Exercises can help strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and tendons to relieve your symptoms.

Your Shoulder Joint

The tendons of the rotator cuff pass underneath a bony area on their way to attaching to the top of the arm bone. These tendons join together to form a cuff that surrounds the shoulder joint. This helps keep the joint stable and allows the arm bone to move on the shoulder bone.

Injury to these tendons may result in:

  • Rotator cuff tendinitis, which is irritation and swelling of these tendons
  • A rotator cuff tear, which occurs when one of the tendons is torn due to overuse or injury

These injuries often lead to pain, weakness, and stiffness when you use your shoulder. A key part in your recovery is doing exercises to make the muscles and tendons in your joint stronger and more flexible.

Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist to treat your rotator cuff. A physical therapist is trained to help improve your ability to do the activities you want.

Evaluating Your Shoulder

Before treating you, a doctor or therapist will evaluate your body mechanics. The therapist may:

  • Watch how your shoulder moves as you perform activities, including your shoulder joint and your shoulder blade
  • Observe your spine and posture as you stand or sit
  • Check the range of motion of your shoulder joint and spine.
  • Test different muscles for weakness or stiffness
  • Check to see which movements seem to cause or worsen your pain

After testing and examining you, your doctor or physical therapist will know which muscles are weak or too tight. You will then start a program to stretch your muscles and make them stronger.

Exercises for Your Shoulder

The goal is for you to function as well as possible with little or no pain. To do this, your physical therapist will:

  • Help you strengthen and stretch the muscles around your shoulder
  • Teach you proper ways to move your shoulder, for everyday tasks or sports activities
  • Teach you correct shoulder posture

Before doing exercises at home, ask your doctor or physical therapist to make sure you are doing them properly. If you have pain during or after an exercise, you may need to change the way you are doing the exercise.

Most exercises for your shoulder either stretch or strengthen the muscles and tendons of your shoulder joint.

Exercises to stretch your shoulder include:

Exercises to strengthen your shoulder:

References

Finoff JT. Upper limp pain and dysfunction. In: Cifu DX, ed. Braddom's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 35.

Rudolph GH, Moen T, Garofalo R, Krishnan SG. Rotator cuff and impingement lesions. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 52.

Whittle S, Buchbinder R. In the clinic. Rotator cuff disease. Ann Intern Med. 2015;162(1):ITC1-ITC15. PMID: 25560729 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25560729.

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    • Anterior shoulder stretch

      Anterior shoulder stretch

      illustration

    • Arm reach

      Arm reach

      illustration

    • External rotation with band

      External rotation with band

      illustration

    • Internal rotation with band

      Internal rotation with band

      illustration

    • Isometric

      Isometric

      illustration

    • Pendulum exercise

      Pendulum exercise

      illustration

    • Shoulder blade retraction with tubing

      Shoulder blade retraction with tubing

      illustration

    • Shoulder blade retraction

      Shoulder blade retraction

      illustration

    • Stretching back of your shoulder

      Stretching back of your shoulder

      illustration

    • Up the back stretch

      Up the back stretch

      illustration

    • Wall push-up

      Wall push-up

      illustration

    • Wall stretch

      Wall stretch

      illustration

      • Anterior shoulder stretch

        Anterior shoulder stretch

        illustration

      • Arm reach

        Arm reach

        illustration

      • External rotation with band

        External rotation with band

        illustration

      • Internal rotation with band

        Internal rotation with band

        illustration

      • Isometric

        Isometric

        illustration

      • Pendulum exercise

        Pendulum exercise

        illustration

      • Shoulder blade retraction with tubing

        Shoulder blade retraction with tubing

        illustration

      • Shoulder blade retraction

        Shoulder blade retraction

        illustration

      • Stretching back of your shoulder

        Stretching back of your shoulder

        illustration

      • Up the back stretch

        Up the back stretch

        illustration

      • Wall push-up

        Wall push-up

        illustration

      • Wall stretch

        Wall stretch

        illustration

      Self Care

       
       

      Review Date: 4/18/2017

      Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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