How to treat a rotator cuff injury?

There is a very good chance you will have a rotator cuff injury at some point in your life and will want to learn how to treat it.  Perhaps it’s why you are reading this today?

In this article, we will cover how to treat a rotator cuff injury and provide some key information to help kick start your recovery.

The most common cause of shoulder pain is pathology to the rotator cuff.   The shoulder is a ball and socket joint with the freedom to provide a large degree of mobility.

Think of how many directions your shoulder allows you to move your arm and compare that to your elbow or knee joints.  This ample degree of mobility requires a dynamic system to provide stability: the rotator cuff.

Below we share some information about the rotator cuff, some common treatments, and if you get to the bottom you’ll find 4 amazing exercises to help you treat your rotator cuff injury as well.

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What Is A Rotator Cuff?

The rotator cuff refers to a group of 4 shoulder muscles and their tendons:

  • Supraspinatus
  • Infraspinatus
  • Teres Minor
  • Subscapularis

These 4 muscles attach from the shoulder blade (scapula) to the arm bone (humerus).  They help keep the ball stabilized in the socket as well as assist with rotating the shoulder.

What Does A Rotator Cuff Injury Feel Like?

The most common symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include:

  • Pain in the shoulder or arm
  • Difficulty raising the arm away from the body
  • Difficulty reaching behind your back
  • Difficulty putting your arm through a sleeve
  • Difficulty finding a comfortable position to sleep

What Causes A Rotator Cuff Injury?

Common causes of injury to your rotator cuff include:

  • Trauma
  • Degenerative Changes
  • Repetitive use
  • Overhead work
  • Posture

Often in the absence of clear trauma to the shoulder, it is difficult to identify what caused the problem in the first place.  The true cause of your pain may be related to a mechanical issue in another area.  I commonly treat concurrent issues in neck, mid back, shoulder blades, as well as look at potential ergonomic issues (see How To Set Up An Ergonomically Friendly Workspace)

Steps To Treating A Rotator Cuff Problem?

Generally treatment for a non-surgical rotator cuff issues is focused on:

  1. Management of Pain and Inflammation
  2. Improving Mobility
    • Manual Therapy
    • Range of Motion Exercises
  3. Improving Strength
  4. Improving Function
    • Sport or work specific functional exercises/simulation
  5. Improving Posture

These different phases of treatment may overlap one on another, and some may be more relevant to your specific issue than others.  Self management at home for each of the phases will be important.  You will likely get exercises and recommendations to follow at home.

Here are 4 amazing exercises to help  treat your rotator cuff pain:


1) Sidelying Shoulder External Rotation with Dumbbell

2) Sidelying Shoulder Internal Rotation Stretch

3) Bent and Straight Arm Rows

4) Pectoralis Major & Minor Stretch


As mentioned, some rotator cuff injuries require surgical management. The best place to start is with a proper diagnosis from your physician.  This may include a referral for a diagnostic ultrasound or MRI.

Physiotherapy will be necessary to ensure a full recovery after surgery if that is required.

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shoulder exercises


  1. Since I started swimming and doing a full list of exercise in a pool I have become much stronger and limber. I have been in pool for 104 days straight. I had knee surgery which made my knee worse. I need back surgery. I work everything in pool. I can run, squat, and other things that I can’t do outside of pool. Any more thoughts.

    • The pool is a great option for low impact strengthening and cardiovascular training. It sounds like you’re committed to your fitness regimen as well, which is great. Have you considered working with a physiotherapist to develop a low impact core stability program suited for your specific needs? Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if the knee and the back are playing off each other.

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