Rotator Cuff Exercises

The Rotator Cuff muscles are smaller muscles that control shoulder movement and easily get overly stretched out and strained from overuse.     

The muscles easily get repetitive strain injuries because you may not need to lift your arm away from your computer, you still need to effortlessly fine-tune your shoulder movement to accurately position your shoulder so your fingers can type, for example.  Next, add poor posture where your head is forward and you hold your shoulders up because of stress and you have the perfect storm for shoulder impingement.

Rotator Cuff Muscles-

  • Supraspinatus- Sits on top of the spine of the scapula, (shoulder blade) and is the first to initiate movement of the shoulder into abduction.  Once the action starts the larger deltoid muscle takes over the movement.

  • Infraspinatus & Teres Minor- Are smaller muscles that lie under the spine of the scapula and are the PRIMARY external rotators of the shoulder.  The infraspinatus acts when your arm is next to your body and your elbow is bent 90* and then you rotate your hand out to the side.  The Teres Minor, (smaller muscles that lie under the spine of the scapula) acts to lift your hand up to the ceiling when you start with your shoulder abducted 90* and elbow bent 90*. (For Abduction of 90* with elbow bent at 90*, picture your arm in the stop position as a crossing guard moving arms down 90* downward)

  • Subscapularis-  Sits on the front part of the scapula and stretches to the front of the arm the assisting the pectoralis major in internal rotation of the shoulder.  The subscapularis acts when your arm is in the starting position of being abducted 90* and your elbow is bent 90* and your hand is in line with your head.  Then you push your hand downward to end in a forward position like a scarecrow.

RTC Strengthening-  

As a Physical Therapist when it comes to strengthening the shoulder there are some- 

Concepts to Consider:

  1.  I think stabilizing the scapula first then strengthening the RTC muscle next.  So, to start any shoulder exercise you must first make sure your shoulder is down.  If you are standing, keep your shoulder pushed down toward the floor and if you are on your back push your shoulder towards your feet.  Next, try to imagine pushing the bottom tip of your shoulder blade into your back pocket.  Now your scapula is perfectly positioned aligning your RTC muscles in the accurate orientation for strengthening.  If you don't set it up correctly, your at risk of injury.

  2.  Next, a substantial group of exercises should be dedicated to external rotators.  And the best way the strengthen the external rotators is using proprioceptive Neuro-Muscular Facilitation (PNF) concepts. More BackStrap Videos to Come!

  3. Because the supraspinatus (rotator cuff muscle) is so easily overused and strained, I typically avoid isolated strengthening of this muscle.  It will get plenty of good training when you focus on stabilizing the scapula while you are doing the other RTC or general shoulder strengthening.

  4. Lastly, subscapularis is typically a muscle group that gets overly tight and restricted causing painful trigger points.  I typically will focus on stretching the subscapularis rather than isolated strengthening it and when I do bring strengthening I will strengthen the subscap using eccentric training concepts rather than classic strengthening.  Examples of exercises to come.  There are many classic internal rotation exercises that will strengthen the chest and arms.

  5. Lastly, when it comes to shoulder/ RTC strengthening, focus on stabilizing the scapula while emphasizing all exercises that strengthen the back of your body i.e. triceps, latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, middle and lower trapezius.