Rotator cuff exercises for reducing pain

The rotator cuff is the name given to a group of four muscles that stabilise the shoulder. Because of the wide range of motion of the shoulder joint, it is easily injured from overuse or wear and tear. When an injury occurs, it can be very painful and healing can be slow. Physiotherapy can help with exercises that strengthen the muscles and reduce pain.

These exercises may assist in rotator cuff healing and reduce pain.

  • In the early stages of the injury, you may have difficulty reaching overhead, touching the opposite shoulder or reaching behind your back. Pendulum exercises, so-called because the arm swings back and forth like a pendulum, may be recommended. To do this exercise you stand with your good arm resting on a firm surface, such as a table, bend at the waist and allow your arm to swing front and back.
  • Bending at the waist, allow the arm to swing from side to side as far as your pain can tolerate.
  • Bending at the waist, move the arm in circles.

As your range of motion improves, you may be able to do the following:

  • Standing with arms raised to shoulder height and straight out to the side, move your arms back slowly as far as you can. Then bring them back in and cross one arm over the other on the chest. Perform the movement again, but this time place the other arm on top.
  • Standing, raise one arm forward and back, then back down to the side. Repeat with the other arm. You should feel a nice stretch but no pain.
  • Holding a towel, raise the affected arm straight up, bend your elbow and allow the towel to hang behind your back. Grasp the end with the other hand and make up and down movements as if you were drying your back. Do ten times, three times a day.

With any exercise, if you feel pain, you may be doing it too fast or stretching too far. Always first seek professional advice from us, your physiotherapist, as each case is unique.