Exercising With a Rotator Cuff Tear: What Works (And What to Avoid)

Have you ever wondered why baseball pitchers often experience shoulder injuries, or how they overcome them? If you’ve ever overexerted your shoulders or taken a nasty fall onto your arm, you might have faced a very similar shoulder injury to a set of muscles called your rotator cuff.

Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that surround your shoulder. These muscles are responsible for two goals: stabilizing the upper arm and shoulder, and making sure your shoulder has a full range of motion in all directions.

There are two common types of rotator cuff injuries. Tendonitis, which occurs when the rotator cuff muscles and tendon become inflamed which can lead to a pinching or impingement  between your arm and shoulder blade bone, is usually caused by muscle strain or overuse of your shoulder muscles. Tears, on the other hand, are the literal tearing of your rotator cuff tendon from the upper part of the shoulder bone. While less common, these tears can result from something as simple as repetitive overhead shoulder motions.

It’s clear that when you damage your rotator cuff muscles in any way, you’re likely to face some pain and problems moving your shoulder or upper arms. But how do you find pain relief?

After discussing your injury and treatment options with your primary physician, ask about exploring recovery exercises for your injuries. In this article, we’ll show you 5 helpful exercises that can ease the pain, strengthen your rotator cuff muscles, and help prevent future shoulder injuries. We’ll also discuss a few exercises that should be avoided, so you don’t exacerbate your shoulder injury.

What Exercises Can I Do With a Torn Rotator Cuff?

Standing Row

A simple exercise to help strengthen your rotator cuff muscles is the standing row. To do this exercise, tie and secure a stretchy workout band to a sturdy object. Then, hold the other end of the band with your hand and position yourself far enough back so the band is taut and there is no slack.

Now, keep your arm close to your body and bent at the elbow at a 90-degree angle. Pull your elbow back and stretch. Perform this exercise with both arms.

This exercise helps to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles. Check out this video demonstration to see an example:

Internal Rotation

A very similar exercise as the standing row, an internal rotation starts the same way by using a stretch band attached to a sturdy object and bending the affected elbow.

After you bend your elbow, cross your forearm across your midsection. Perform this exercise with both arms.

This exercise helps to strengthen your rotator cuff muscles. Check out this video demonstration to see an example: 

Crossover Arm Stretch

Another simple stretch, the crossover arm stretch starts with a standing, neutral position and relaxed shoulders. Next, stretch your affected arm across your chest. Then, hold that arm at the elbow using your other arm until you start to feel a little bit of strain in your muscles. Perform this exercise with both arms.

This exercise focuses on strengthening the posterior rotator cuff muscles.
Check out this video demonstration to see an example: 

Posterior Stretch

The posterior stretch works like a less intensive version of the crossover arm stretch. Start at a standing, neutral position and relax your shoulders. Then, with your affected arm, reach across your body and rest your hand on your opposite shoulder. Hold the affected arm in place with your uninjured arm.

Like the crossover arm stretch, this exercise improves the strength of your posterior rotator cuff muscles. Check out this video demonstration to see an example: 

Pendulum swing

If you want to really help improve mobility in your shoulders, try doing pendulum swings. Start in a standing position and rest your unaffected arm on a stable surface (like a table or railing). Bend forward while keeping your back straight. Now, start to gently swing your injured arm out from your side, then back in. After several of these in-and-out motions, try moving your affected arm in small circles. Gradually make wider circles and/or reverse your direction of motion.

This exercise can increase your shoulder mobility.

Check out this video demonstration to see an example: 

Rotator Cuff Tear Exercises to Avoid

You’ve learned a few exercises that can bring shoulder pain relief and strengthen your rotator cuff muscles. But what about the exercises you should avoid when suffering a shoulder injury? Some common exercises can exacerbate your injury and ultimately do more harm than good. A general rule of thumb is performing exercises below shoulder level and in front of your body.

Chest Exercises

Chest exercises, such as dumbbell flies or pushups, are some of the riskiest exercises to do while recovering from a shoulder injury. Without proper form, it’s easy to put too much pressure on your rotator cuff muscles or pinch them against the shoulder bones. If you suffer from a rotator cuff muscle injury, consult your physician before attempting any chest exercises.

Dip Movements

If your shoulder has experienced an injury to the rotator cuffs, it’s more than likely that your shoulders won’t have the full range of motion needed to properly execute dip movements. Supporting your body weight while doing this movements could exacerbate the injury even more.

Other Shoulder Exercises

Avoid any extreme ranges of motion in your shoulders. Exercises like behind-the-neck shoulder presses, upright rows, or any exercises that require you to use your upper arms behind your torso. When attempting any exercises with an injured shoulder, make sure you keep your range of motion limited to what’s comfortable.

Preventing and Treating Rotator Cuff Injuries

Although they are pretty common, rotator cuff injuries can be easily preventable by doing shoulder exercises with proper form, keeping the weights low, and avoiding overuse of your shoulders.

If you have any questions about a rotator cuff injury and want to learn more about treatment options, schedule an appointment with Resurgens Orthopaedic physician today!