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Rotator Cuff Problems: Exercises You Can Do at Home

Rotator Cuff Problems: Exercises You Can Do at Home


Exercises are a very important part of treatment for a rotator cuff disorder. If you have pain, weakness, and stiffness in your shoulder from a rotator cuff problem, your doctor will likely suggest that you try exercises and other at-home treatments. These treatments may include rest, ice, heat, and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen.

At-home treatments can help heal most rotator cuff problems. If they don't work, you may want to think about surgery or other treatment.

Try to avoid certain motions and everyday activities that make your problems worse. For example, try not to reach into the backseat of your car or stretch your arms toward your back. Be careful when you start your exercises. Slow down or stop if you need to.

You also need to do exercises if you have rotator cuff surgery. You will work with your doctor and physical therapist to plan an exercise program. It can help you get back as much strength and flexibility in your shoulder as possible.

How do you exercise for rotator cuff disorders?

Before you start these exercises, talk with your doctor or physical therapist. It is important to do the exercises the right way every time.

But stop exercising and call your health professional if you are not sure you are doing them correctly. Also call if you have any pain. Any discomfort you feel during exercise should not last more than 2 hours after you finish.

Clicking and popping during exercise don't mean that something is wrong. But a grinding feeling may be another problem.

If your shoulder is sore after you exercise, ice it.

Stretching exercises

If you have had surgery, you probably won't start active rotator cuff exercises (where you use your shoulder muscles) 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 you can do these exercises.

Most people wear a sling or brace after surgery to keep their shoulder from moving. Ask your doctor how to take it off before you exercise and how to put it back on after the session. A friend, family member, or physical therapist may be able to help you if your doctor says it's okay.

You need to do the stretching exercises well 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 stretching exercises with pictures and instructions. The pendulum swing is a good exercise to start with.

Strengthening exercises

Start these exercises only after your doctor says it's okay. Usually these exercises are started slowly, as soon as you can do the stretching without pain. But most people wait 6 to 8 weeks after surgery to do these exercises and others like them.

For any strengthening exercises where your arms start at or stretch from your sides, the motion should be on a diagonal. That means the motion should be about 30 degrees to the front of where your arms would be if you raised them straight out to the side.

The list below links to strengthening exercises with pictures and instructions.

Scapular strengthening exercises

The shoulder blade (scapula) is one of the main bones of the shoulder joint. It helps to keep the shoulder stable and move well. 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 well, you have a higher chance that one of the tendons will be squeezed and rub against the bone. This is called impingement.

These exercises can help you keep or improve strength around the shoulder blade. They also can help your rotator cuff work as it should.

The list below links to scapular strengthening exercises with pictures and instructions.


Current as of: June 6, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Timothy Bhattacharyya MD - Orthopaedic Surgery, Orthopaedic Trauma

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