How Often Should I Do Rotator Cuff Exercises?
The rotator cuff comprises four muscles that support the shoulder joint. These muscles are called the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. Injury to the rotator cuff muscles is common and can result in significant pain, which can affect the everyday use of your shoulder. To avoid rotator cuff injury, it is important to routinely strengthen this group of muscles.
Regimen for Rotator Cuff Exercises
Exercises for the rotator cuff are categorized into "internal" and "external" rotation exercises. It is important that you do one of each to balance the full range of motion in your shoulder. Overemphasizing one or the other can result in further injury. In most cases you should work a muscle group twice a week, allowing two days of recovery between the workouts. However, the frequency you do rotator cuff exercises can depend on the severity and type of injury you have incurred. Because of this, it is important to seek the guidance of a physical therapist or physician who specializes in shoulder rehabilitation.
Exercises to Strengthen the Rotator Cuff
Both internal and external rotation exercises for the rotator cuff can be performed with light dumbbells or resistance bands.
To do an internal rotation exercise with dumbbells, lie on your side. With a light dumbell, bend the elbow nearest to the floor outward 90 degrees, elevating the elbow 1 to 2 inches above your hip. Slowly lift the dumbbell upward and toward your body. Pause here and then return to the starting position. Repeat 10 to 12 times for one set and then complete a set on the other side. Do this exercise three times a day, advises the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
For an external rotation exercise using dumbbells, continue to lie on your side. Holding your elbow at 90 degrees at your side, rotate the dumbbell slowly upward, away from your stomach. Return to the starting position and perform 10 to 12 times for one set and then repeat on the other side. Do the exercise three times a day, recommends AAOS.
Importance of Strengthening the Rotator Cuff
The muscles that make up the rotator cuff are responsible for stabilizing the shoulder joint. If these muscles are not strong, the ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder is left unstable and more prone to injury. Over time, the tissues surrounding the shoulder joint can become overly stressed and can lead to tendinitis and tearing of the rotator cuff muscles. Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles will help prevent these types of injuries.
Common Causes of Rotator Cuff Injury
There are four common causes for an injury to the rotator cuff. The first cause, normal wear and tear due to aging, results in a deterioration of the collagen contained in your cuff's tendons and muscles. Poor posture is another predisposing factor in rotator cuff injury, as slouching leads to the muscles of the rotator cuff becoming pinched underneath the shoulder blade. Third, an injury or lifting and pulling an object that is too heavy can strain the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff. Last, and most common among athletes who use an overhead throwing motion, repetitive stress of the shoulder muscles can result in inflammation and eventually tearing of the rotator cuff.
- MedLine Plus: Rotator Cuff Injury
- "Healthy Shoulder Handbook: 100 Exercises for Treating and Preventing Frozen Shoulder, Rotator Cuff and Other Common Injuries"; Karl Knopf; 2010
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Rotator cuff tears. Updated March 2017.
- Physiopedia. Rotator cuff.
- Mihata T, Morikura R, Hasegawa A, et al. Partial-thickness rotator cuff tear by itself does not cause shoulder pain or muscle weakness in baseball players. Am J Sports Med. 2019:47(14):3476-3482. doi:10.1177/0363546519878141
- Harvard Health Publishing. What to do about rotator cuff tendinitis. Updated May 19, 2019.
Alicia Fedewa is a psychology professor who has been writing since 2006. Her work appears in publications such as the "Journal of Pediatric Psychology" and the "American Journal of Occupational Therapy." Fedewa holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Michigan State University, as well as certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.