Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises

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The rotator cuff consists of a group of four muscles that help lift your arm and rotate it away from your body. These muscles also move the head of the shoulder bone during elevation of your arms. These muscles act as dynamic stabilizers while you are lifting your arms up away from your body.

Unfortunately, the muscles are prone to inflammation and tears during overhead activities or due to wear and tear. An important way to reduce tears or rotator cuff injury is by strengthening these muscles. The exercises below will show you how to strengthen the muscles of your rotator cuff.

Be sure to check in with your doctor before starting these exercises for your rotator cuff muscles. A visit or two with your local physical therapist can also help ensure that you are doing the exercises properly and that they are safe for you.

Exercise One

  • Lie on your stomach on a table or a bed
  • Put one arm out at shoulder level with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and your hand down
  • Keeping your elbow bent, slowly raise your hand
  • Stop when your hand is level with your shoulder
  • Lower the hand slowly
  • Repeat 10 times
  • Perform with opposite arm

Exercise Two

  • Lie on your side on a bed or the floor
  • Place your upper arm at your side with your elbow bent to 90 degrees, and your forearm resting against your chest, palm down
  • Rotate your shoulder out, raising your forearm until it is level with your shoulder
  • Lower the hand slowly
  • Repeat 10 times
  • Perform with opposite arm

Exercise Three

  • Stand with your arms slightly behind you with both thumbs down
  • Raise your arms up, pretending that you are emptying a can with each hand
  • Lower the arms slowly
  • Repeat 10 times

You can make any of these exercises more challenging by holding a small dumbbell. Start light—usually, 2 or 3 pounds is enough to create adequate resistance. Another way to add resistance is to perform shoulder exercises with a resistance band. (You can get one from your local physical therapist.)

The rotator cuff exercises can be done 2 or 3 times per week or as directed by your physical therapist. Be sure to stop the exercise if you feel worsening pain in your shoulder, shoulder blade, or arm.

Common Problems With the Rotator Cuff

If you have weakness in your rotator cuff muscles, you may experience various problems with your shoulders. These may include:

Any and all of these problems can cause a loss of range of motion and limited function of your upper extremities. Working to keep your rotator cuff muscles strong can help you possibly avoid these problems with your shoulders.

If you are looking to keep your shoulders strong, visiting with your physical therapist to learn rotator cuff strengthening exercises is a good idea. Your PT can tailor a rotator cuff exercise program to help keep your shoulders strong and mobile.

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