5 Best Rotator Cuff Exercises For a Tear

What is the Rotator Cuff?

Please watch this video on how to properly wear a shoulder sling. 

By: Andrew Heideman, Physical Therapist/Certified Athletic Trainer

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that originate along the shoulder blade and attach to the front of the shoulder. Their responsibility is to help stabilize the shoulder, as well as lift and rotate the arm for activities such as reaching, lifting, grooming and bathing. A rotator cuff tear can limit one's ability to perform such activities.

Here is an anatomy video outlining the structure of the rotator cuff.

Shoulder AnatomyShoulder Anatomy

How Do You Tear The Rotator Cuff and What Are The Symptoms?

Common methods of tearing the rotator cuff include falling on the arm or hand, repetitive motions resulting in wear and tear, and/ or wear and tear due to general aging. 

If you have a rotator cuff tear, you may experience symptoms such as pain at the top and front of the injured shoulder, or even pain down the upper arm. Other symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include swelling, limitations in the ability to raise the arms overhead or lift items.

5 Best Rotator Cuff Exercises For a Tear 

- The Best Exercises for a Torn Rotator Cuff Exercises by JOI Rehab Include:

1)Range of Motion (pulleys or cane) 

With an acute rotator cuff tear, these devices help regain normal range of motion in the shoulder.

2) Pendulum Exercises

These exercises help with range of motion and getting the shoulder to relax and scapular movement.

Codman's exercise or pendulum exercisePendulum Exercises

3) Postural Strengthening or Scapular Exercises

Posture is very important in the recovery from a shoulder injury.  The scapula must also be addressed especially if the patient has been wearing a sling.  Exercises include the row, shoulder extension and horizontal abduction. 

Single arm row Singe Arm Row Exercise 

4) Pain-free Isometric Shoulder Exercises

Isometric exercises are the first stage of contracting muscles which have atrophy from immobilization or surgical repair. 

5) Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises or PRE's

Strengthening of rotator cuff include: sidelying ER, scaption, flexion, abduction.  Resistance can be applied by thera-band or weights. 

JOI Rehab Sidelying row exerciseSidelying Row Exercise 

Shoulder Flexion with Theraband

There are many exercises that are beneficial to assist in treating the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear, but these are just a few that may help your case.

How Do You Treat a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Rotator Cuff Tears vary in the severity, location and type. Therefore, rotator cuff tear treatment will also vary. But, some of these steps may help decrease your pain and subsequent limitations caused by a rotator cuff tear.

Best treatments for a rotator cuff tear:

  • Rest
  • Activity modification  
  • Ice
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Physical therapy 
  • Orthopedic consult 

1.  Rest and activity modification: limit the way you are doing certain activities. If it hurts to reach behind and overhead, limit how often you are completing those motions, to decrease the stress on the tendon.  Often with severe tears, a shoulder sling is used to immobilize the shoulder. 

Changing positions in how you sleep may also help the pain associated, and allow you to get a better night’s sleep.

Rest is equally important to help reduce the amount of inflammation around the joint, but be careful with too much rest. Not using the arm or severely limiting the motion of the arm after a rotator cuff tear can lead to frozen shoulder.

2. Ice: Ice is highly recommended to assist in reducing inflammation in the shoulder after a rotator cuff tear. Applying ice also helps to reduce the pain associated with the tear.  

3. Anti-inflammatories: Anti-inflammatory medications can be helpful in assisting in controlling the inflammation associated with the pain of a rotator cuff tear. In the event that you choose to take an anti-inflammatory, make sure you check with your physician for direction on use and duration.

4. Physical Therapy: The idea of physical therapy for a rotator cuff tear is to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint, to assist in reducing the amount of stress on the rotator cuff tear and the surrounding shoulder girdle. 

5.Orthopaedic Specialist: In any event, it may be best to seek treatment from an orthopedic physician to assist in the care of a rotator cuff tear.

Other than ice, anti-inflammatories and activity modification, a physician may recommend steroid injections or even the need for surgery to repair the rotator cuff tear. 

If you have pain related to baseball throwing, please read this article on Baseball Biomechanics. 

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For more content from JOI and JOI Rehab watch this video featuring Trevor Lawrence!

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