Exercises are a very important part of
treatment for a
rotator cuff disorder. If pain, weakness, and
stiffness in your shoulder are related to problems with your rotator cuff, a
doctor will usually first recommend nonsurgical treatment.
Exercises, combined with periods of rest, ice, and heat and taking nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), resolve most rotator cuff
problems. If the pain in or function of your shoulder does not improve with
these methods, surgery or other treatment may be considered.
need to avoid certain motions and everyday activities that make your problems
worse, such as reaching into the backseat of your car or stretches that pull
your arms toward your back. Be careful when you begin your exercises. Slow down
or stop the activity if needed.
Exercises also play a role when
your rotator cuff is treated surgically. You will work with your doctor and physical therapist to plan an exercise program that helps you
regain as much strength and flexibility in your
shoulder as possible.
Exercises that help rotator cuff disorders include:
Be sure to talk with your doctor or
physical therapist before you start any exercises for
rotator cuff disorders. After the exercises listed below are approved, your
results will depend on your commitment to using the correct technique and doing
the exercises as often and for as long as your doctor recommends.
But do not continue exercises that cause pain. Talk to your doctor
to see if you are doing the exercises properly. If you are doing them correctly
and yet are having pain, you may need modified exercises or other
If my symptoms improve with exercise, it is okay to do
them less frequently.
It is important that you continue your
exercises as long as your doctor recommends. Stopping exercises or
not doing them as frequently as recommended may delay your progress. Not doing
exercises as prescribed can also make it more difficult for your doctor to diagnose your problem.
I should not do an exercise that is
Some mild discomfort is not unusual when you
start new exercises, but your exercises should not hurt. If any exercise causes
pain, talk to your doctor. You may be doing the exercise
incorrectly, or it may need to be modified. Pain may also mean that your
condition needs other treatment.
Continue to Why?
Exercises can help relieve shoulder pain related to rotator cuff
disorders. Stretching and strengthening exercises can help you properly use
your shoulder to minimize further damage. Exercises can also improve strength
and flexibility of related muscles and tendons.
Most rotator cuff
disorders are resolved with exercises that are combined with other home
treatment methods, such as rest, ice, heat, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs. If exercise and other home treatment methods do not sufficiently relieve
painful symptoms or improve strength and range of motion, your rotator cuff may
have a complete tear that needs surgery, or you may have another condition.
Exercises can help me use my shoulder properly,
relieve pain, build strength, and improve flexibility related to my rotator
Exercises are part of a complete nonsurgical
treatment program that can help relieve pain in most people and restore enough
function of their shoulder to avoid surgery.
Continue to How?
you start these exercises, talk with your doctor or physical therapist. It is
important to be consistent and do the exercises every day.
But stop exercising
and call your health professional if you are not sure you are doing them
correctly or if you have any pain. Any discomfort you feel during exercise should not last more than 2 hours after you finish. And pain should not wake you up at night.
Clicking and popping during
exercise are not necessarily cause for concern. But a grinding sensation may
point to another problem.
If your shoulder is sore after you
exercise, ice it.
If you have had surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear, you
will not usually begin any active exercises until at least 3 to 6 weeks after
surgery. Active exercise might be allowed right away after surgery for tendinitis. Be sure to follow your surgeon's advice on when exactly these
exercises are appropriate. Also, most people wear an immobilizing
sling or shoulder brace after surgery. You will need to ask your doctor about getting
help taking it off before you exercise and replacing it at the end
of the session. A friend, family member, or physical therapist may be able to
help you if your doctor approves.
You should master the
stretching exercises and be able to put your shoulder through its full range of
motion before you begin strengthening routines. Do the stretching exercises 5
to 10 times a day.
The list below links to specific stretching exercises
with pictures and instructions.
exercises only after you have your doctor's approval. Usually
these exercises are started gradually as soon as you can do the stretching
routine without pain. But these and other similar exercises usually should not
be done until at least 6 to 8 weeks after surgery.
For any strengthening exercises where your arms start
at or stretch from your sides, the motion should be on a diagonal about 30
degrees to the front of where your arms would make a T when raised 90
degrees to the side.
The list below links to specific strengthening exercises
with pictures and instructions.
blade (scapula) is one of the main bones of the shoulder joint. It stabilizes
the shoulder from the back side. If the scapula doesn't move well, it puts a
lot of pressure on the rotator cuff and related muscles, which can cause
strain. Also, if the scapula is not moving properly, there is an
increased risk of impingement in the subacromial space.
exercises can help you keep or improve strength around the shoulder blade to
help with rotator cuff function.
The list below links to specific
scapular strengthening exercises with pictures and instructions.
I should start with the strengthening exercises and
follow with the stretching exercises.
You must first regain your flexibility and be
able to do the stretching exercises without pain. When you are comfortable with
all of the stretches, you can advance to the strengthening exercises.
If I have pain while I exercise, I need to call my
Although some pain may be normal, you need to
check in with your doctor to see if you need further
Continue to Where?
To learn more about exercises for rotator cuff
problems, talk to:
To learn more about shoulder pain and rotator cuff
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS)
provides information and education to raise the public's awareness of
musculoskeletal conditions, with an emphasis on preventive measures. The AAOS
website contains information on orthopedic conditions and treatments, injury
prevention, and wellness and exercise.
Return to topic:
Rotator Cuff Disorders
November 30, 2011
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
& Timothy Bhattacharyya, MD
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