Common rotator cuff problems and five exercises to help

rotator cuff

What is the rotator cuff?  

The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles in the shoulder, connecting the upper arm (humerus) to the shoulder blade (scapula). The rotator cuff tendons provide stability to the shoulder.  The muscles allow the shoulder to rotate. The four muscles are called teres minor, infraspinatus, supraspinatus and subscapularis.  

If you have ever had a rotator cuff injury, physical therapy is important  to help regain shoulder strength and range of motion. It is really important to keep your shoulder strong and mobile. It is very useful to see a professional (like us!) for advice and to be prescribed an exercise programme to do at home if the symptoms aren't settling quickly.

Risk factors 

Damage to any or all of the four muscles and the ligaments can be caused by acute injury, chronic overuse, or ageing; 

Overuse: Degenerative rotator cuff injuries are more common in people who engage in repetitive overhead shoulder motions, such as hammering, painting, swimming, playing tennis, or pitching a baseball. 

Shoulder arthritis: People with shoulder arthritis are more likely to develop shoulder instability, muscle weakness, and bony cysts, called osteophytes.  

Older age: Degenerative rotator cuff injuries tend to occur in people over 40 and become increasingly more common as people age.  

Common rotator cuff disorders

Rotator cuff disorders are one of the most common causes of shoulder pain. Common conditions include;  

  • Rotator cuff tear 
  • Rotator cuff tendinitis 
  • Rotator cuff impingement 
  • Frozen shoulder 
  • Subacromial bursitis

Symptoms of pain

Shoulder pain: People with rotator cuff injuries complain about pain, especially at night. Pain may also be felt during over-the-head motions or reaching behind the back. 

Stiffness: The shoulder may feel most stiff when getting out of bed in the morning. 

Muscle weakness: Lifting the arm overhead or holding the arm away from the body may be difficult. The muscles at the back of the shoulder may appear smaller on the injured side than on the unaffected side. 

Loss of active range of motion: A person with an injured rotator cuff may not be able to move the arm through a normal range of motion. However, sometimes the arm can still be passively moved, meaning that someone else can lift the affected arm and rotate it through a complete range of motion.  

Swelling and tenderness: The front of the shoulder is often swollen and tender. 

Crepitus (shoulder popping): Cracking and popping sensations in the shoulder are also common, and may indicate the shoulder’s ball and socket joint is not tracking properly.

5 simple stretches and exercises for rotator cuff                 

1. Pendulum Swing

  • Stand to the side of a table, steady chair, or railing and place the hand of your uninjured arm on the object for stability. 
  • Gently lean forward without rounding the back and allow the affected arm to dangle freely. Then, lightly move this arm forward and back. 
  • Starting in the same position, move your arm in and out (side-to-side). 
  • Starting in the same position, move your arm in small circles. Start in a clockwise motion, then reverse and do it counter clockwise. 
  • Repeat the exercise with the other arm. 

2. Crossover Arm Stretch

  • Stand up straight and relax your shoulders. Take a few deep breaths if you need to relax. 
  • Stretch the affected arm across your chest, but below your chin; reach as far as possible. 
  • The healthy arm helps by holding the elbow area of the affected arm. 
  • When performing this exercise, you should feel a stretch—not pain. 
  • Repeat the exercise with the other arm. 

3. Posterior Stretch

  • Stand up and relax the shoulders. 
  • The hand of the uninjured arm holds the elbow region of the injured one. 
  • The hand of the injured arm crosses the body and rests on the opposite shoulder. 
  • The hand of the uninjured arm lightly pushes the affected arm up and over the body, eliciting a stretch. 
  • Repeat the exercise with the other arm. 

4. Standing Row

  • This exercise involves a stretch band, tied at the ends to make a three-foot loop. 
  • Attach one end of the loop to a steady object like a doorknob and face it. 
  • Hold the other end in one hand, and stand far back enough so there is little or no slack in the band. 
  • With your arm bent at the elbow at a 90-degree angle and close to your body, pull the elbow back. 
  • Repeat the exercise with the other arm. 

5.Internal Rotation

  • Like a standing row, this exercise involves a stretch band tied at the ends to make a three-foot loop. 
  • Attach one end of the loop to a steady object like a doorknob; stand to the side and hold the band in the hand of your affected arm. 
  • Bend your elbow to a 90-degree angle and keep it close to your body. Then, bring the arm over the mid-section of the body. 
  • Repeat the exercise with the other arm. 

If you are having issues with your rotator cuff, or any other area, please contact us! We are here to help! Give us a call, email or book online