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The shoulder is a complex joint where several bones, muscles, and ligaments connect the upper extremity to the chest. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of the shoulder joint providing movement and stability to the shoulder. There are many exercises that can be performed to focus on the rotator cuff muscles. These exercises help to improve movement and stability of the joint during activity thereby minimizing injury or dislocations. Exercise also helps rehabilitate the shoulder after injury and prevent joint stiffness.

The exercises described below help strengthen the rotator cuff muscles. Always warm up your shoulder before performing your exercises. Pendulum exercises are a good way to warm up the shoulder. This simple exercise is performed by bending at the waist and gently swinging the arms back and forth as well as raising and lowering the arms slowly. The following exercises may then be performed using light weights that allow you to perform at least 20-30 repetitions of each movement.

  • Lie face down on a table or bed with your arm extending over the edge. Keep your upper arm at 90 degrees to your body with your elbow flexed and your forearm pointing down. Holding a light dumbbell or weight and keeping the elbow flexed, raise your hand till it is level with your shoulder. Repeat the movement 20-30 times or until you are tired and then perform the whole exercise with the other arm.   
  • Lie on your side with the arm above flexed at the elbow so that your forearm lies across your abdomen. Holding a lightweight and keeping your elbow against your side, raise your forearm, rolling your shoulders out, to lift the weight up towards the ceiling. Repeat until your arm is tired and then perform the whole exercise with the other arm.
  • Lie on your side with the arm below flexed at the elbow with the forearm perpendicular to the body and resting on the floor. Holding a lightweight, raise your hand up while rolling your shoulder in, so that your forearm is now perpendicular to the floor. Repeat until your arm is tired and then perform the whole exercise with the other arm.
  • Stand with your knees slightly bent and with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bending slightly at the waist with your back straight and holding light weights in both hands, raise your arms sideways until they are parallel to the ground squeezing the shoulder blades. Repeat the exercise until your arms are tired.  

Talk to your therapist if you experience pain or swelling. You may be recommended to use lighter weights. The weights may be increased incrementally on a weekly basis once your strength has improved and you are able to perform the exercises easily.

  • Biologic Association
  • American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
  • AANA Advancing the Scope
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons