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Exercises to Prevent Rotator Cuff Pain

Exercises to Prevent Rotator Cuff Pain
Kevin Cleary

Our shoulder joint is quite the complicated assembly. Any injury to this area can be extremely painful and debilitating. The rotator cuff consists of a group of four muscles that keep the shoulder area stable, while allowing it to move. As you can imagine, any injury to this area can seriously interfere with your everyday life. Everything from dressing to getting a good night’s sleep can be negatively affected by an injury to this area. By strengthening this area through exercises, we can prevent rotator cuff pain.

Rotator Cuff Pain

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Shoulder injuries, rotator cuff injuries in particular, can be extremely painful and very slow to heal. There are numerous causes of shoulder pain and injury to the rotator cuff area. For example, working overhead for long periods of time can lead to fatigue in the rotator cuff area as well as trauma, such as falling on your arm, can lead to an acute injury to this shoulder area. There are two common types of rotator cuff injuries and they are:

  1. Impingement: When the rotator cuff swells and pinches the space between the arm and shoulder bones, an impingement occurs. This can lead to muscle strains, bone spurs, and even soreness in other muscle groups compensating for the injured area.
  2. Tear: A rotator cuff tear is slightly less common and is when a tendon or muscle of the rotator cuff is torn. While painful, most rotator cuff tears will not require surgery.

It doesn’t matter the type of injury or how it occurred, the risk of injury to the rotator cuff increases as we age. This is due to the everyday wear and tear we subject our bodies to on a daily basis.

Exercises for Avoiding Pain

If you should experience a rotator cuff injury, you should follow the RICE protocol of rest, ice, compression, and elevation, but the best way to recover from rotator cuff pain is to avoid it altogether. Doing exercises that strengthen the rotator cuff area in the shoulder can help minimize the risk of injury. Some easy exercises to potentially avoid rotator cuff pain include:

  • Doorway Stretch

    Stand in an open doorway and while grasping the doorway at shoulder height or slightly lower, lean forward through the doorway until you feel a slight stretching. Keep your back as straight as possible while shifting your weight to your toes and you should feel a stretch through the front of your shoulder. Take great care to not overstretch!!
  • Prone External Rotation

    Simply lie down on your opposite side of the shoulder you want to exercise and bend your arm at a 90° angle across your tummy. While using your elbow as a pivot point, lift your arm up away from your abdomen. Using a light dumbbell can help increase strength in your rotator cuff area. Three sets of 10 repetitions are suggested and can be increased to 20 reps as you advance.
  • Hi-Low Rows

    Attach an elastic band or resistance band above your shoulder level taking care to ensure that it is secure. Grasp the elastic/resistance band securely with your hand in front of you and pull your elbow towards your body. Be sure to keep your back straight and squeeze your shoulder blades together and downward. After pulling towards your body, slowly release the band away from your body. This exercise should be done for three sets of 10 repetitions.
  • Reverse Flys

    While standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent, gently bend forward at the hips while keeping your back straight. Using a light weight, such as a dumbbell, extend your arms away from your body. You do not lock your elbows!! Gently squeeze your shoulder blades together while lifting the weight, but not above your shoulder height.
  • Lawnmower Pulls

    Again stand with your feet shoulder width apart with one end of an elastic band under your foot. Grasp the elastic band with your hand and place your other hand on your hip. Gently straighten upright while pulling your elbow across your body towards your outside ribs as if you are mimicking starting a lawnmower. Once again, keep your shoulders relaxed and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Three sets of 10 repetitions are suggested.
Body Sport Neoprene Dumbbells BodySport Resistance Tubes with Handles TheraBand Professional Resistance Bands and Tubing

There’s an old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Never have words been so prophetic and wise!! You should always check with your doctor or physical therapist before beginning any exercise program to make sure any exercises you’re doing are appropriate and safe. By doing simple exercises, you can avoid potential injury to your rotator cuff area and head off possible surgery, pain, and a long rehabilitation. If you should experience pain or swelling, stop doing these exercises and consult your physician/therapist Be proactive, not reactive!!


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HPFY Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary

Kevin Cleary has been a Health Products For You contributor for many years and has a degree in marketing. His health and wellness journey has a very personal meaning and has guided him in his content writing for HPFY.

In 2006, ...

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