Rotator Cuff Stretches: The Finest Shoulder Strikes to Forestall Damage


We use our shoulders for almost each little factor we do: reaching for a can behind the cupboard; placing a e book on a excessive shelf; slipping our arm right into a sleeve; brushing our enamel. So when you could have a bum shoulder, it’s, nicely, an enormous bummer.

Most individuals with shoulder ache have some sort of rotator cuff tear or harm. Issues with the rotator cuff—probably the most necessary components of the shoulder—are tremendous frequent (extra on why later). Yearly, greater than 2 million People see their physician complaining of rotator cuff ache, based on the Cleveland Clinic.

Whereas stopping a rotator cuff harm isn’t all the time doable, displaying your shoulder some love within the type of day by day rotator cuff stretches can actually decrease your possibilities. Learn on to study extra concerning the rotator cuff, together with why it’s vulnerable to ache, one of the best stretches to maintain it lengthy and limber, and what to do if you find yourself with an harm.

What’s the rotator cuff, precisely?

“The rotator cuff is a bunch of comparatively small muscle tissues [and tendons] that connect to the entrance and the again of the shoulder,” says Anna Hammond, DPT, OCS, PCES, a bodily therapist at Core Train Options.

“The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint,” so the rotator cuff muscle tissues “work collectively to assist maintain the ball centered within the socket,” Hammond says. In different phrases, it holds your shoulder in place and stabilizes the joint, so you are able to do issues like elevate your arms or attain overhead.

Why is the rotator cuff vulnerable to harm?

“The brief reply is most individuals have tight or weak rotator cuff muscle tissues,” says Grayson Wickham, DPT, CSCS, founding father of the Motion Vault.

Sometimes, tight rotator cuff muscle tissues on the entrance of the shoulder (together with the pectoralis minor) will pull the shoulders ahead (i.e., out of correct alignment), he says. The rotator cuff muscle tissues on the again of the shoulder may also be weak or unstable.

This lack of stability normally has to do with repeated poor posture (suppose: slumping in entrance of a laptop computer 9 hours a day), Wickham says. Not actively stretching or strengthening the muscle tissues additionally performs an element.

Downside is, poor shoulder mobility and stability units off a harmful domino impact, one thing Wickham calls the “joint ache and harm cycle.” The cycle is:

  • Tight or unstable shoulder muscle tissues trigger compensations in your rotator cuff
  • These compensations result in joint wear-and-tear (on this case, micro-tearing of particular rotator cuff muscle tissues resembling your supraspinatus)
  • This joint wear-and-tear ultimately results in ache and harm

Making issues worse, we rely on the rotator cuff for lots of on a regular basis actions (suppose: combing our hair, pushing a vacuum) so it will get lots of wear-and-tear. Over time, this overuse damages and weakens the shoulder, making it much more prone to harm, based on Harvard Well being Publishing.

On prime of all this, the motion of the rotator cuff entails the sequencing of many muscle tissues together with the scapula (shoulder blade), the humerus (higher arm bone), and the rib cage, Hammond says. “If one element is not working nicely, the rotator cuff can simply get pinched within the joint house or set as much as overwork,” she says.

The right way to know when you’ve got a rotator cuff harm

Tears are probably the most frequent rotator cuff accidents. They’ll occur unintentionally, say, if you happen to fall, or they could be a byproduct of wear-and-tear from repetitive actions and common growing old.

Signs of a rotator cuff tear embrace, per the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Problem elevating or transferring your arm with out ache or discomfort
  • Basic weak point in your shoulder joint
  • Much less vary of movement in your shoulder

Tendonitis (or irritation of tendons within the shoulder) is one other frequent rotator cuff drawback. When it’s extreme, tendonitis may even trigger a rotator cuff tear.

Signs of rotator cuff tendonitis embrace, per Harvard Well being Publishing:

  • A uninteresting ache across the exterior tip of the shoulder that will get worse once you push, pull, attain overhead, or elevate your arm as much as the aspect
  • Ache once you lie on the affected shoulder

Can rotator cuff stretches forestall an harm?

The brief reply: sure, partially. “The best approach to forestall rotator cuff accidents is to enhance your total shoulder mobility and stability,” Wickham says. This implies ensuring the muscle tissues on the back and front of your shoulder are sturdy and versatile.

“The best approach to forestall rotator cuff accidents is to enhance your total shoulder mobility and stability.”—Grayson Wickham, DPT

Focused stretching is a part of this equation. “An efficient shoulder mobility program will embrace particular rotator cuff lively stretches,” Wickham says. The important thing phrase being lively. “Static stretching won’t enhance your rotator cuff vary of movement or stability,” he says.

The opposite pivotal piece for stopping a rotator cuff harm is strengthening the shoulder muscle tissues. Muscle activation workouts will assist improve rotator cuff mobility and stability. particularly with overhead actions, Wickham says.

Hammond agrees: “it is a few well-balanced weight coaching program that helps be certain that your scapula strikes nicely in all planes of movement and with management.”

“Sometimes, give attention to rib cage mobility and eccentric lengthening workouts of the serratus, pecs, lats, and subscap,” Hammond says. “The eccentric focus of an train helps provide you with size and power” in these muscle tissues, she says. Each are mandatory for staying harm free.

Different advantages of rotator cuff stretches

“Along with harm prevention, performing rotator cuff lively stretches and muscle activations may also enhance your efficiency in your day by day life actions,” Wickham says.

A number of on a regular basis issues you are able to do with extra ease (and fewer ache) when your rotator cuff is in tip-top form:

  • Attain excessive in your cabinet to get one thing
  • Open a door
  • Elevate your groceries
  • Brush your hair

Including rotator cuff stretches to your common routine also can degree up your health within the fitness center or in your sport, Wickham says. You’ll be higher at push-ups, bench press, pull-ups, throwing a baseball or soccer, or swinging a tennis racket, simply to call just a few.

Finest rotator cuff stretches to forestall harm

These shoulder workouts, which you are able to do at house, are really useful by Wickham to construct vary of movement and suppleness, and enhance stability and mobility throughout the shoulder joint to assist forestall harm in your rotator cuff. For one of the best outcomes, incorporate them right into a well-balanced strength-training routine.

1. Rotator Cuff Muscle and Fascia Lively Launch Mendacity With Ball

This targets and unlocks your posterior rotator cuff muscle tissues (those within the again) by reducing neurologic muscle tone, Wickham says. We like to make use of a Set off Level Therapeutic massage Ball for fascia stretches, however a lacrosse and even tennis ball will work simply as nicely.

male physical therapist demonstrates how to use a lacross ball in a rotator cuff stretch

  1. Begin by mendacity in your again with one arm lifted straight overhead.
  2. Place the mobility ball in your rotator cuff muscle tissues of your overhead arm. To search out these muscle tissues, take your reverse hand and attain over your shoulder to search out the backbone of your shoulder blade.
  3. Place the ball beneath this backbone. The ball needs to be on the underside half of your shoulder blade.
  4. Internally and externally rotate your shoulder. To do that, level your thumb upward towards the ceiling, after which rotate your shoulder, pointing your thumb downward so far as you may towards the bottom.
  5. You can even discover different areas in your rotator cuff by transferring the ball barely in both course.
  6. Proceed this shoulder rotation motion whereas mendacity on the ball for two minutes. Swap and repeat in your different shoulder.

2. Sleeper Stretch Lively Stretch

“This lively stretch and activation train targets the again of your shoulder,” Wickham says. “It maximally stretches and prompts your posterior rotator cuff muscle tissues and improves shoulder rotation.”

male physical therapist demonstrates one of the best rotator cuff stretches

  1. Begin by mendacity on one aspect with a slight bend at your hips.
  2. Your physique will probably be in a V place. Relaxation your head on prime of a pillow, foam curler, or yoga block.
  3. Level your backside forearm and hand immediately at your hip crease. This may present you the place your arm needs to be.
  4. Maintain the again of your shoulder and elbow of the underside arm on the bottom your complete time.
  5. Take your reverse hand and place it on the highest of your different forearm and push down so far as doable.
  6. You need to now really feel a maximal stretch behind your shoulder that’s on the bottom.
  7. Whereas staying within the stretch, contract these muscle tissues by making an attempt to push your wrist into your reverse hand that’s holding your forearm down and offering resistance.
  8. Maintain this contraction for 20 seconds.
  9. Subsequent, chill out the muscle tissues, however keep within the stretch and contract the muscle tissues on the opposite aspect of your shoulder by making an attempt to push your hand and forearm in the direction of the bottom even farther, so far as doable.
  10. Maintain this contraction for 10 seconds.
  11. That’s 1 rep; full 3 reps. You need to be capable to get slightly deeper into the stretch with each repetition. Then swap arms.

3. Reverse Snow Angels Standing

It is a nice transfer just like shoulder flossing to enhance full lively vary of movement and stability of your shoulders in quite a few positions, as a result of it targets the entire muscle tissues round your shoulder blade and shoulders.

male physical therapist demonstrates a standing rotator cuff stretch to help prevent shoulder injury

  1. Stand together with your toes shoulder-width aside.
  2. Push your hips again so far as doable till your chest is parallel to the bottom otherwise you really feel a stretch behind your hamstring muscle tissues.
  3. Maintain your again flat your complete time. Along with your arms by your aspect, and palms dealing with up, prolong your shoulders upward as excessive as doable.
  4. Bend your elbows and produce your arms behind your again, making an attempt to the touch the bottoms of your reverse shoulder blades.
  5. Straighten your elbows, flip your palms down, and unfold aside your shoulder blades whereas bringing your arms out to the aspect after which overhead so far as doable.
  6. As soon as your arms are maximally stretched out overhead, reverse the above steps, by pinching your shoulder blades collectively as you progress your arms out to the aspect after which again all the way down to your aspect.
  7. Flip your palms upward and prolong your shoulders as excessive as doable upward.
  8. That’s 1 rep; carry out 3 units of three reps.

“The aim of this train is to maneuver your shoulders and shoulder blades by their most pain-free vary of movement,” Wickham says. So when you’ve got ache at any level, modify the stretch till the vary of movement is extra comfy for you.

4. Shoulder Flexion Lively Stretch

By specializing in the entrance and aspect of your shoulder, particularly your lat and rotator cuff muscle tissues, this transfer improves overhead mobility and stability, based on Wickham. It is also a nice approach to stretch out shoulder knots.

male physical therapist demonstrates a shoulder flexion active stretch against an ottoman

  1. Begin in your arms and knees. Place one hand together with your thumb dealing with upward onto a field, bench, or piece of furnishings.
  2. Preserving your elbow straight your complete time, push your chest all the way down to the bottom so far as doable till you’re feeling a maximal stretch within the entrance and aspect of your shoulder.
  3. Whereas staying on this stretch, contract the shoulder muscle tissues by driving your hand and arm into the field and holding this contraction for 20 seconds.
  4. Subsequent, chill out the muscle tissues, however stay within the stretch. Contract the muscle tissues on the opposite aspect of your shoulder by making an attempt to elevate your hand up off of the field as excessive as doable. You in all probability received’t be capable to elevate your arm as a result of it’s maximally stretched (which is completely regular), however the thought is to inform your muscle tissues to strive. Maintain this contraction for 10 seconds.
  5. This equals 1 rep; do 3 reps, then swap arms.

5. Cross-Chest Posterior Shoulder Eccentrics

This lively stretch and activation train targets the again of your shoulder to enhance posterior rotator cuff mobility and stability, Wickham says.

male physical therapist demonstrates how to do cross-chest eccentrics for rotator cuff strength

  1. Begin by mendacity in your aspect with one arm immediately out in entrance of you, palm dealing with up.
  2. Contract the muscle tissues on the again of your shoulder in your straight arm by pushing the again of your hand and arm down into the bottom.
  3. Whereas holding this contraction, slowly decrease your reverse shoulder and chest all the way down to the bottom so far as doable. This could take you about 5 seconds.
  4. Be certain that to proceed to press your arm down into the bottom, contracting this muscle your complete time. You need to really feel it behind your shoulder.
  5. Subsequent, transfer your arm upward about 6 inches and repeat the steps above.
  6. This equals 1 rep. Full 10 reps and repeat on the opposite aspect.

6. Pectoralis Lively Stretch

In the event you’ve ever carried out a chest stretch by an open doorway, this transfer could be very related. It provides some contractions to the muscle tissues on the entrance of your shoulder, particularly your pectoralis muscle tissues, to not simply stretch your entrance shoulder however enhance its stability, too.

male physical therapist demonstrates a lying pectoralis active stretch

  1. Begin by mendacity in your abdomen with one arm straight out to your aspect at a 90-degree angle out of your physique and palm down.
  2. Utilizing your reverse arm for assist, elevate and rotate your reverse hip and leg off of the bottom, so far as doable backward. This may enhance the stretch within the entrance of the shoulder of your straight arm.
  3. Whereas staying within the stretch, contract the shoulder muscle tissues by driving your hand and arm into the bottom. Maintain this contraction for 20 seconds.
  4. Subsequent, chill out the muscle tissues, however keep on this stretch. Contract the muscle tissues on the again of your shoulder by making an attempt to elevate your hand and arm up off of the bottom as excessive as doable. Maintain this contraction for 10 seconds.
  5. In case you are deep into the stretch, you won’t be able to elevate your arm a lot (this can be a good factor). Proceed to contract the muscle tissues on the again of your shoulder.
  6. Briefly come out of the stretch and bend your elbows 3 occasions. Then place your arm again on the bottom, however transfer it about 6 inches upward. Repeat the identical steps above.
  7. Proceed this motion sample, transferring your arm upward every time till it’s nearly immediately overhead. The upper you progress your arm upward, the much less it is possible for you to to rotate your physique.
  8. Repeat on the other aspect.

Workouts to keep away from with an injured rotator cuff

Whereas relaxation is vital for restoration, you shouldn’t cease transferring your shoulder altogether. This will trigger “frozen shoulder,” a situation that happens when shoulder tissues shrink and scale back its vary of movement, based on Harvard Well being Publishing. Staying lively will assist forestall this drawback and maintain your shoulder limber.

That mentioned, you’ll additionally should be cautious about which workouts you select to do—you don’t wish to worsen your harm (or your ache). Sure workouts, like overhead actions (or something that entails elevating your arms) and horizontal pushing actions, can worsen a rotator cuff harm, Wickham and Hammond say.

Some workouts to keep away from with a rotator cuff harm:

Different (maybe shocking) workouts that add pressure to a nasty shoulder embrace, per the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Deadlifts (they’ll pull your arm out of your socket and place a ton of pressure on the rotator cuff)
  • Shrugs (they pull down in your shoulder)
  • Squatting with a barbell (resting the bar throughout your shoulders can stress the rotator cuff)

Nonetheless, everybody (and each harm) is completely different. “The particular stretches and workouts to keep away from rely in your extent of harm and your present shoulder mobility and stability degree,” Wickham says. “Let the discomfort down your arm be your information,” Hammond says. Merely put: if one thing hurts, cease doing it.

Merely put: if one thing hurts, cease doing it.

Alternatively, you may also accommodate your shoulder by modifying (on this case, lowering) the vary of movement of an train or stretch, Wickham provides. As you get better, you’ll progressively rebuild vary of movement and power.


What if I have already got a rotator cuff harm?

Generally even once you handle your shoulders (learn: stretch and strengthen them recurrently), accidents nonetheless occur (argh). Now what?

Whereas it’d take a while, most accidents can heal with slightly assist. It normally takes two to 4 weeks to get better from rotator cuff tendonitis or a small tear, based on Harvard Well being Publishing. For extra severe tears, the therapeutic course of might final a number of months.

Both approach, with persistence and a few TLC, you may efficiently get better from a rotator cuff harm (and relieve rotator cuff ache). Right here’s how, per the Cleveland Clinic:

  • Relaxation (and perhaps an arm sling) to present your overused shoulder much-needed downtime.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs) to restrict ache and swelling.
  • Steroid injections to ease ache and swelling.
  • Bodily remedy for rebuilding vary of movement and power.

Can a rotator cuff heal by itself?

Fortunately, many rotator cuff accidents—together with tendonitis and tears—can heal with bodily remedy (and with out surgical procedure), based on Harvard Well being Publishing.

Living proof: 8 of 10 individuals with partial rotator cuff tears make a full restoration utilizing conservative therapies (suppose: ice, NSAIDs, bodily remedy), per the Cleveland Clinic.

Nonetheless, “not all rotator cuff accidents are created equal,” Hammond says. “You possibly can have completely different thicknesses or variety of muscle tissues concerned.”

In different phrases, whether or not you may get higher by yourself relies on “the extent of harm, a.okay.a., muscle tearing,” Wickham provides. Much less severe rotator cuff tears (like grade one or two tears, for instance) could be efficiently rehabbed with the assist of a bodily therapist, he says.

“An efficient rotator cuff tear rehab program won’t solely allow you to lower your shoulder ache, however may also repair the foundation reason for your rotator cuff tear, which most often is poor shoulder mobility and stability,” Wickham says.

“It should additionally give attention to different areas of your physique as nicely resembling higher again mobility, core stability and even hip mobility,” he says. “Poor mobility in these areas will trigger additional compensation in your shoulders, which can usually result in wear-and-tear and ultimately shoulder ache and harm.”

Alternatively, extra extreme accidents, like grade three tears, will usually require surgical procedure, Wickham says.

What’s the finest place to alleviate rotator cuff ache?

An injured rotator cuff could be fairly painful. You would possibly discover it troublesome to get comfy in any place.

“Sometimes, mendacity in your injured shoulder is the worst place,” Wickham says. Right here’s what to do as an alternative to alleviate ache when mendacity in your aspect:

  • Depart your arm by your aspect whereas sitting (or standing). Elevating your arm overhead can worsen the discomfort.
  • When mendacity down, lie in your reverse (i.e., wholesome) shoulder. In the event you nonetheless have ache on this place, put an enormous pillow beneath the highest/affected arm to assist assist it/forestall it from getting pulled throughout your physique.

“Mendacity in your again is usually painful too,” Hammond says. To assist:

  • Put a pillow beneath your affected arm together with your hand in your abdomen. 
  • Place a small towel behind the again of shoulder (the thought isn’t to shove the shoulder ahead however moderately to convey the mattress or floor as much as it to assist it chill out and really feel supported).

If sitting is painful, do this, Hammond says:

  • Fold a pillow in half to place beneath your arm earlier than you sit down. 

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