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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 - illustration

    The anterior shoulder stretch is an exercise that stretches the anterior, or front, part of your shoulder.

    Anterior shoulder stretch

    illustration

  • Arm reach - illustration

    The arm reach is an exercise that strengthens the muscles that hold your should blade (scapula).

    Arm reach

    illustration

  • External rotation with band - illustration

    External rotation with a band is an exercise that strengthens or tones the muscles that help rotate your shoulder outward, or away from your body.

    External rotation with band

    illustration

  • Internal rotation with band - illustration

    Internal rotation with a band is an exercise that strengthens or tones the muscles that help rotate your shoulder inward, or towards your body.

    Internal rotation with band

    illustration

  • Isometric - illustration

    Isometric shoulder exercises strengthen and tone the muscles in your shoulder.

    Isometric

    illustration

  • Pendulum exercise - illustration

    The pendulum exercise stretches the joint capsule of your shoulder joint to keep it from getting stiff. Avoid this exercise if you have back pain.

    Pendulum exercise

    illustration

  • Shoulder blade retraction with tubing - illustration

    The shoulder blade retraction with tubing exercise stretches the muscles that hold your shoulder blade (scapula).

    Shoulder blade retraction with tubing

    illustration

  • Shoulder blade retraction - illustration

    The shoulder blade retraction with no tubing exercise stretches the muscles that hold your shoulder blade (scapula).

    Shoulder blade retraction

    illustration

  • Stretching back of your shoulder - illustration

    Stretching the back of your shoulder is an exercise that stretches the back part of your injured shoulder joint.

    Stretching back of your shoulder

    illustration

  • Up the back stretch - illustration

    The hand up your back stretch is an exercise that stretches the anterior, or front, part of your shoulder.

    Up the back stretch

    illustration

  • Wall push-up - illustration

    Wall push-ups are exercises that stretch the muscles and joint capsule of your shoulder joint.

    Wall push-up

    illustration

  • Wall stretch - illustration

    Wall stretches are exercises that help make your injured shoulder joint more flexible.

    Wall stretch

    illustration

  • Anterior shoulder stretch - illustration

    The anterior shoulder stretch is an exercise that stretches the anterior, or front, part of your shoulder.

    Anterior shoulder stretch

    illustration

  • Arm reach - illustration

    The arm reach is an exercise that strengthens the muscles that hold your should blade (scapula).

    Arm reach

    illustration

  • External rotation with band - illustration

    External rotation with a band is an exercise that strengthens or tones the muscles that help rotate your shoulder outward, or away from your body.

    External rotation with band

    illustration

  • Internal rotation with band - illustration

    Internal rotation with a band is an exercise that strengthens or tones the muscles that help rotate your shoulder inward, or towards your body.

    Internal rotation with band

    illustration

  • Isometric - illustration

    Isometric shoulder exercises strengthen and tone the muscles in your shoulder.

    Isometric

    illustration

  • Pendulum exercise - illustration

    The pendulum exercise stretches the joint capsule of your shoulder joint to keep it from getting stiff. Avoid this exercise if you have back pain.

    Pendulum exercise

    illustration

  • Shoulder blade retraction with tubing - illustration

    The shoulder blade retraction with tubing exercise stretches the muscles that hold your shoulder blade (scapula).

    Shoulder blade retraction with tubing

    illustration

  • Shoulder blade retraction - illustration

    The shoulder blade retraction with no tubing exercise stretches the muscles that hold your shoulder blade (scapula).

    Shoulder blade retraction

    illustration

  • Stretching back of your shoulder - illustration

    Stretching the back of your shoulder is an exercise that stretches the back part of your injured shoulder joint.

    Stretching back of your shoulder

    illustration

  • Up the back stretch - illustration

    The hand up your back stretch is an exercise that stretches the anterior, or front, part of your shoulder.

    Up the back stretch

    illustration

  • Wall push-up - illustration

    Wall push-ups are exercises that stretch the muscles and joint capsule of your shoulder joint.

    Wall push-up

    illustration

  • Wall stretch - illustration

    Wall stretches are exercises that help make your injured shoulder joint more flexible.

    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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