Preventing Rotator Cuff Injuries

Preventing Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator Cuff Overview

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the top, rear and front of the shoulder joint, and is one of the most important parts of the shoulder. The muscles of the rotator cuff allow people to lift their arms and reach over their heads, and rotator cuff injuries occur most often in people who repeatedly perform overhead motions in their jobs or sports. Examples include painters, carpenters, and people who play baseball or tennis. Also, the risk of rotator cuff injury increases with age and is most common among men over the age of 65. A rotator cuff injury can cause a dull ache in the shoulder, which often worsens when sleeping on the affected side. Rotator cuff shoulder injuries can be caused by a forceful incident like a fall, or by repetitive motion like throwing a baseball repeatedly.

General Shoulder Injury Prevention

If you have injured your rotator cuff in the past, or if you are at risk of rotator cuff injuries, daily shoulder stretches and strengthening exercises can help prevent future injury.

Keeping the shoulder strong and flexible with exercises targeting the small muscles that make up the rotator cuff best prevents rotator cuff injury. Warming up the body before doing a vigorous activity is recommended, including stretching your shoulders and arms.

Typically, most people exercise the front muscles of the chest, shoulder and upper arm. However, it is equally important to strengthen the muscles in the back of the shoulder and around the shoulder blade to optimize shoulder muscle balance.

It’s important to do strengthening exercises to promote balanced strength in the shoulder, such as arm raises to the side, external rotation, and “hug a tree” stretches. If you’ve had a previous injury, taking breaks throughout the day to do arm and shoulder stretches will help in preventing any future injuries. Resting your shoulders before a workout can also alleviate some stress in the rotator cuff. Frequent massages and cold and hot compresses can also aid in reducing inflammation.

Rotator Cuff Injury Prevention

It is important to complement a program strengthening the larger muscles of the shoulder with a few key exercises just for the rotator cuff. Whether you are active or inactive, young or old, the exercises for strengthening your rotator cuff (as well as most physical therapy for shoulder pain) are identical. Because the rotator cuff muscles are relatively small, to strengthen your rotator cuff, it’s best to keep the movement slow and controlled, and to use lower resistance with more repetitions. That technique gradually strengthens these small muscles without the risk of injury.

Exercises to Prevent Rotator Cuff Injury

Your doctor or a physical therapist can help you develop a customized exercise plan. Specific exercises that strengthen the rotator cuff muscles can include:

1. Rhythmic Stabilization Drill

  •  Assume push-up position with hands on med balls positioned shoulder-width apart
  •  Press hands against med balls, keeping upper back and core tight
  •  Sets/Duration: 2-3×15-45 seconds

2. Side-Lying External Rotation

  • Lie on side on training table, bench or floor with foam roller under head and rolled towel between top elbow and body
  • Grasp lightweight dumbbell with top hand and bend elbow at 90-degree angle; dumbbell should be directly in front
  • Rotate shoulder to slowly raise dumbbell to ceiling; keep elbow pinned against towel
  • Slowly lower dumbbell to start position
  • Sets/Reps: 2×10-15 each side

3. Constant-Tension Scapular Raise

  • Assume athletic position, standing on resistance band
  • With arms at sides, tightly grasp resistance band just beneath handles
  • Pinch shoulder blades together and pull resistance band up until hands are at shoulder level and slightly-wider-than-shoulder width
  • Slowly lower hands to start position
  • Sets/Reps: 2×8-10

Rotator Cuff Injury Treatment from Avalon Orthopedic

If you have suffered a rotator cuff injury, call the shoulder specialists at Avalon Orthopedic today at (818) 206-8686 for a consultation.


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