Quick and Easy Rotator Cuff Exercises (with little to no equipment)
Most of us will complain of shoulder pain at some point in our lives. Some of these injuries will be caused by repetitive use or overhead work, some due to trauma like a car accident, and others will seem to just suddenly start over time without a logical explanation.
The most common shoulder pathology involves strain, tendonitis, or tearing of one or more of the four rotator cuff muscles.
The following video includes 3 quick and easy rotator cuff exercises often used by the pros in physical therapy sessions and provided as part of a home exercise program.
These fundamental exercises address:
- External rotation strength
- Scapular Control
The rotator cuff refers to a group of 4 shoulder muscles and their tendons:
- Teres Minor
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.
It is also worth noting that, the scapula, a bone that all 4 rotator cuff muscles are attached to is also attached to many other muscles leading into the neck, skull, thoracic spine, and ribs.
Because of all these muscles pulling on this bone, it is imperative that when treating the rotator cuff we also pay close attention to the position and functioning of the scapula.
“The scapula is the foundation of the upper extremity, similarly to the pelvis and the lower extremity.”
Symptoms can include:
- Pain in the shoulder or arm (often rotator cuff pain goes down into the side of the arm, this is called “referred pain”)
- Difficulty raising the arm away from the body or overhead
- Difficulty reaching behind your back (example: putting on a bra or reaching into back pocket)
- Difficulty putting your arm through a sleeve of a shirt or sweater
- Difficulty finding a comfortable position to sleep (especially sleeping on side)
Common causes of injury to your rotator cuff may include:
- Degenerative Changes
- Repetitive use
- Overhead work
Generally treatment for a non-surgical rotator cuff issues is focused on:
- Management of Pain and Inflammation
- Ice (How to know when to ICE vs. HEAT an injury)
- Therapeutic Taping
- Improving Mobility
- Manual Therapy
- Range of Motion Exercises
- Improving Strength
- Isometric Exercises
- Resistance Band Exercises
- Resistance training
- Improving Function
- Sport or work specific functional exercises/simulation
- Improving Posture
- Postural Training – check out this video to learn how to use the “Wall Angel” exercise to improve posture while working on active shoulder range of motion.
Don’t forget to consult with a medical professional to help assess and diagnose your shoulder pain prior to starting a treatment program. As always feel free to Ask a Physio.
The videos above are a great start for many people with shoulder pain caused by the rotator cuff, but it is only a “start”. Although surgical intervention is often not required to manage the more typical types of rotator cuff injuries, additional treatment modalities and further exercise progressions will likely be beneficial to achieve full recovery.
Follow this blog and my YouTube channel (myphysiosays) and stay tuned for more helpful information to help you rehab injuries and keep up your physical fitness.
Hi Sam, Great info on the rotator cuff. I had two full thickness rotator cuff tears the past 22 months. I have many years of training and conditioning ever since college but I’m afraid the years of wear and tear have taken a toll. Both injuries were a result of a high impact collision (street hockey) where the shoulder became subluxated upon contact and the cuff/labrum tearing. I was a full time practicing chiropractor for many years focusing on sports medicine. Now I’m experiencing many of the injuries my patients had. I enjoy reviewing information as it pertains to the body. Keep the good stuff coming. Richard Monoson DC
Thanks for the comment. I enjoy sharing about my clinical experiences. Hope you are recovering well.
Sam, what is your position on stem cell therapy or PRP treatment for connective tissue conditions. I have an Achilles tendon that seems to be consistently injured when doing explosive sprints or running and suddenly changing direction. I can feel a snap like when a muscle tears or an avulsion occurs. I immediately do the squeeze test or Simmonds test and it is intact. Plantar flexion and toeing off in gait bring severe pain two to three inches proximal to insertion on calcaneus. I want to return to street hockey but I’m certain this chronic situation will arise again. I’m fearful of a full Achilles tear and I value your opinion on the above mentioned therapies
Richard, sincere apologies for missing the reply on this comment. I hope you have been able to recover well. Honestly, these treatments are not that popular in my area but tend to be more often considered in the US vs. Canada, where I practice. The Sports Med I work with avoids Achilles injections due to rupture risk. Here is an exercise I like for lower extremity impairments although the article was written with knee pain in mind.
How many repetitions of each exercise do we do? Including the posture exercise.
Hi Claudia! Thanks for the question. Dosing exercises can be very specific to each individual. However, these principles should help guide you. These exercises shouldn’t cause pain so don’t push through discomfort. The feeling of fatigue is normal and expected to achieve results. I typically try to start with about 2-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions with about 30 seconds of rest in between. This may be increased or decreased based on your tolerance. Posture exercises will typically have less repetitions but the hold his longer. I try to achieve 10 times a 10 second hold if good form is maintained in the absence of pain. I hope that helps and good luck.