Rotator Cuff Exercises

By By: Tim Wall MS, ATC

4 Top Rotator Cuff Exercises & Stretches

The Rotator Cuff is a group of 4 muscles that control movement at the shoulder. The shoulder is a complex joint that is actually made up of 4 different joints. The rotator cuff muscles control the movement of the ball and socket portion of the shoulder. There are 4 top exercises for the 4 muscles of the rotator cuff. The muscles of the rotator cuff include:

  1. Supraspinatus – (on the top) It is the most commonly injured rotator cuff muscle.
  2. Infraspinatus  – helps to rotate the shoulder outward or externally.
  3. Teres Minor helps to rotate the shoulder outward or externally.
  4. Subscapularis – helps to rotate the shoulder inward or internally.
There are 4 muscles that make up the Rotator Cuff.

4 Top Rotator Cuff Exercises

The ball and socket portion of the shoulder would be unstable without the rotator cuff.  The socket portion (Glenoid Fossa) is very shallow compared to ball (head of the humerus). There is a piece of cartilage around the edge of the socket called a labrum. The labrum helps to add depth to the socket but the socket region is still small compared to the ball portion. This allows for a lot of mobility in the shoulder for all of the movements that the shoulder must do during daily life.

Rotator Cuff Stretches

Here are a couple of stretches for the rotator cuff muscles.  Using a cane with your arm and shoulder at a 90 degree angle, you gently take the shoulder back towards the table.  Do not force this stretch if you have pain or if you have an unstable shoulder joint.

Rotator cuff Stretch

External Rotation with a Cane for the Rotator Cuff

The Sleeper Stretch is one of many ways to stretch the rotator cuff for internal rotation.  While laying on your side with your shoulder blade still on the table, you gently push down on your hand toward the table.  The shoulder and elbow are in a 90 degree angle.  Again, you should feel a stretch without pain.

Sleeper Stretch

Sidelying Sleeper Stretch

Why are the 4 Top Rotator Cuff Exercises Important?

The Rotator Cuff muscles contract to control the the movements of the head of the humerus in the socket. They also help to pull the ball into the socket during activity to give more stability to the shoulder.

JOI Rehab image of the anterior shoulder muscles and anatomy with labels for supraspinatus, long head of Biceps, subscapularis and subacromial bursae

Shoulder muscles and Rotator Cuff Muscles

Why Should I Work on Rotator Cuff Exercises?

It’s easy to forget about the rotator cuff muscles (RTC) until you have a shoulder problem.  Most gym workouts involve overhead presses, bench presses and rows.  These exercises work the large muscle groups around the shoulder but they depend on the rotator cuff to stabilize the shoulder joints during the exercises.  If the RTC muscles do not do their job, the shoulder can become injured.  This is the case with sports activity too.  Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles can help to prevent injury and improve the function of the shoulder.  If you think your pain is coming from a baseball injury, please read this BASEBALL Biomechanics Article.

If you would like to learn more about Rotator Cuff Injuries, this video may help.

What are the 4 Top Rotator Cuff Exercises?

There are 4 exercises that you can do at home to help to strengthen the rotator cuff.  You will need an exercise resistance band.  The start and end position for each exercise is provided.  Perform these exercises slowly 10 times for 3 sets.  When you do these exercises, keep your hand in a “thumbs-up” position.  This will decrease the risk of irritating rotator cuff muscles while exercising.

#1 Shoulder Flexion

Shoulder flexion t band start position

Shoulder Flexion with Bands

Shoulder Flexion

Shoulder Flexion at end range

#2. Shoulder Extension


JOI Rehab T-Band Extension

JOI Rehab T-Band Extension

#3. Internal Rotation Shoulder

Shoulder Internal Rotation with Bands

Shoulder Internal Rotation with Bands

Shoulder Internal Rotation with Bands

Shoulder Internal Rotation with Bands

#4. Shoulder External Rotation

Shoulder External Rotation with Bands

Shoulder External Rotation with Bands

Shoulder External Rotation with Bands

Shoulder External Rotation with Bands

How Do You Fix A Rotator Cuff Problem?

Shoulder pain and rotator cuff injuries can become complicated quickly. The shoulder tends to become stiff quickly when there is an injury.  That’s why it is important to see a doctor or therapist quickly.  The Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute specializes in treating shoulder issues including rotator cuff injuries.  If you have shoulder problems, we can help!

Also if you have recently had a shoulder surgery please watch our video on How to Properly Put on a UltraSling 4.

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By: Tim Wall, MS, ATC

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