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Updated on May 18, 2020

Rotator Cuff Muscle Exercises

The rotator cuff consist of the group of muscles such as the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis muscle. The upper arm consists of the deltoids, biceps and the triceps muscle.

These muscles protect your shoulder joint and facilitate the following movements:

  • Lifting the arm above the shoulder like washing hair or hitting a smash in badminton
  • Rotating the arm towards and away from the body
  • Elevating or lowering the arm straight sideways

Rotator cuff muscle injuries are usually caused by wear and tear from overuse, sports injury or trauma.  This condition is very common in competitive sport athletes and include:

  • Tendinitis is inflammation of the tendon causing pain. This is due to overuse and common in swimmers and badminton players
  • Bursitis is inflammation in the bursa common from occupation overuse such as labourers
  • Rotator cuff tear is where a muscle is injured (as partial or complete tear)

Symptoms

  • Difficulty raising the affected arm or moving in an arc
  • Pain on moving the arm
  • Weakness at certain arm movements
  • Difficulty lifting things
  • Clicking or popping sound can occur in certain cases

Treatment

  • Rest and avoid use of the affected shoulder and arm
  • Cold pack and painkillers
  • Daily gentle stretching exercises to improve mobility (see below)
  • Shoulder surgery when there is a definitive tear

Physiotherapy Exercise Principles for Shoulder Muscles Rehabilitation

For shoulder rehabilitation, it the Quality of exercises (rather than the Quantity) that is IMPORTANT.  Remember that the exercises are not meant for bodybuilding but rather for recovery to achieve the following goals;

1. Strength. These exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles which support your shoulder and keep the joint stable to prevent further injury

2. Flexibility.  Stretching the muscles will restore the range of motion for your shoulder and reduce muscle soreness

Consult your physiotherapist or doctor on the type, duration and frequency of exercises

BEFORE you start any exercises  

Focus on how your shoulder blades behave  and you should not experience any joint pain when performing the exercises.  Ice your shoulder after exercising.  Exercise once a day and rest every 1 or 2 days to allow recovery time for muscle adaptation and strengthening.  The shoulder conditioning exercises should be performed for 4-6 weeks during your recovery period.  You are encouraged to maintain these exercises on a regular basis to reduce the risk of recurrence.

Getting Started

  • Warm Up.  Before you start on the shoulder exercises, 5-10 minutes warm up with low impact exercise like walking.
  • Pendulum Stretch.  Let your arm hang on the side and swing it backward and forwards as well as in a circular manner for 10 times.  Repeat 2 sets. 
  • Crossover Arm Stretch.  Relax your shoulder and gently pull one arm across your chest with the other hand for 30 seconds.  Repeat 4 sets per side.

Click to view Shoulder Exercise A

Exercise A. Trapezius & Rhomboid Muscles

  • Use an elastic stretch band with a suitable resistance.
  • Stand holding the band with the elbows bent at your side
  • Slowly pull the band straight back and return to the starting position
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades as you pull the band towards you
  • Repeat 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions (or as advised by your physiotherapist or doctor)

Click to view Shoulder Exercise B

Exercise B. Trapezius, Infraspinatus, Subcapsularis & Rhomboid Muscles

  • Use an elastic stretch band with a suitable resistance.
  • Stand holding the band with the elbows bent at your side
  • Rotate your arm externally (outwards) and hold for 5 seconds
  • Rotate your arm inwards back to the starting position and do not let the elastic band pull your arm back
  • Repeat 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions (or as advised by your physiotherapist or doctor)

Click to view Shoulder Exercise C

Exercise C. Deltoid & Supraspinatus Muscles

  • Use an elastic stretch band with a suitable resistance.
  • Stand holding the band with your arm straight and extend by your side
  • Slowly raise your arm externally (outwards) to around 45 degrees (or higher if you are able)
  • Slowly lower your arm (inwards) back to the starting position and do not let the elastic band pull your arm back
  • Repeat 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions (or as advised by your physiotherapist or doctor)

Click to view Shoulder Exercise D

Exercise D. Deltoid anterior & Pectoralis Muscles

  • Stand holding a light stick with your elbow bent by your side
  • Slowly raise the stick up to your chin level and hold for 5 seconds
  • Slowly lower the stick back to resting position
  • Repeat 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions (or as advised by your physiotherapist or doctor)

Click to view Shoulder Exercise E

Exercise E. Serratus anterior Muscle

  • Lie down and hold a light weight (like a water bottle) with your elbow bent
  • Slowly raise the weight up  and hold for 5 seconds
  • Slowly lower the weight back to resting position
  • Repeat 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions (or as advised by your physiotherapist or doctor)

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Disclaimer. TELEME blog posts contains general information about health conditions and treatments. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. 

If you think you may be suffering from any medical condition, you should seek immediate medical attention from your doctor or other professional healthcare providers. You should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice, or discontinue medical treatment because of information on this website.

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