The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of the shoulder joint, allowing the shoulder to move and keeping it stable.
The tendons of the rotator cuff pass underneath a bony area on their way to attaching the top of the arm bone. These tendons join together to form a cuff that surrounds the shoulder joint. This provides the stability of the joint and allows movement of the arm bone on the shoulder bone.
Injury to these tendons may result in:
Rotator cuff tendinitis, when irritation and swelling of these tendons is present
A rotator cuff tear, when one of the tendons is torn due to overuse or injury
See also: Rotator cuff problems
These injuries often lead to pain, weakness, and stiffness when you use your shoulder. A key part in your recovery is starting exercises to make the muscles and tendons in your joint stronger and more flexible.
Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist to treat your rotator cuff. A physical therapist is trained to help improve your ability to do the activities you want.
Muscle Strengthening and Stretching
Many muscles surround your shoulder and lower back. When all of these muscles are working together well, they serve to stabilize your shoulder joint. When your shoulder is stabilized, there is less strain on your shoulder joint and muscles when you are active.
Before treating you, a doctor or therapist will evaluate your body mechanics. The therapist may:
- Watch how your shoulder moves as you perform activities, including your shoulder joint and your shoulder blade
- Observe your spine and posture as you stand or sit
- Check the range of motion of your shoulder joint and spine.
- Test different muscles for weakness or stiffness
- Check to see which movements seem to cause or worsen your pain
After testing and examining you, your physical therapist or doctor will know which muscles are too weak or too tight. You will then start a program to stretch out your muscles and make them stronger.
The goal is to teach you proper techniques for using your shoulder with everyday activities, at work, or during sports. Exercises can help you heal from an injury and avoid re-injury.
Start by lying on your stomach on a table or a bed. Put your left arm out at shoulder level with your elbow bent to 90° and your hand down. Keep your elbow bent, and slowly raise your left hand. Stop when your hand is level with your shoulder. Lower your hand slowly. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then do the exercise with your right arm.
Lie on your left side with a rolled-up towel under your right armpit. Stretch your right arm above your head. Keep your left arm at your side with your elbow bent to 90° and the forearm resting against your chest, palm down. Roll your right shoulder out, raising the right forearm until it’s level with your shoulder. (Hint: This is like the backhand swing in tennis.) Lower the arm slowly. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then do the exercise with your left arm.
Lie on your right side. Keep your left arm along the upper side of your body. Bend your right elbow to 90°. Keep the right forearm resting on the table. Now roll your right shoulder in, raising your right forearm up to your chest. (Hint: This is like the forehand swing in tennis.) Lower the forearm slowly. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then do the exercise with your left arm.
In a standing position, start with your right arm halfway between the front and side of your body, thumb down. (You may need to raise your left arm for balance.) Raise your right arm until almost level (about a 45° angle). (Hint: This is like emptying a can.) Don’t lift beyond the point of pain. Slowly lower your arm. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then do the exercise with your left arm.