Rotator cuff 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, injury, or wearing away over time.
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:
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:
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:
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:
Finnoff JT. Upper limb 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.
Review Date: 4/21/2019
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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