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4 Effective Exercises for Rotator Cuff Rehabilitation, According to a Physical Therapist

Check out a physical therapist's 4 Effective Exercises for Rotator Cuff Rehabilitation. The exercises described here are ideal for patients with varying degrees of injuries.

Luna Morin
4 Effective Exercises for Rotator Cuff Rehabilitation, According to a Physical Therapist
Table Of Contents

Rehabilitating an injured rotator cuff can be long and challenging. Many people don’t realize just how important the rotator cuff is to our daily activities until it’s injured. The good news is that there are many exercises out there that you can do to help rehabilitate your rotator cuff, and we spoke with a physical therapist about four of the most effective ones.

Whether you’re recovering from an injury, dealing with shoulder instability, or a combination of those exercises performed at home can effectively target and strengthen the muscles in your shoulder. Read on to find out more!

This article discusses what the rotator cuff is, what it does, and four of the best exercises for strengthening or rehabilitating the rotator cuff.

What is the Rotator Cuff?

The shoulder joint comprises four significant muscles - the infraspinatus, subscapularis, supraspinatus, and teres minor. This ball-and-socket union enables a variety of movements as these "cuff" muscles anchor the arm bone to form a "hood" around its sphere portion. As such, they are critical in providing stability and allowing unrestricted mobility in your shoulders!

This group of muscles helps keep your arm stable and helps provide a range of motion in the shoulder area. When injured, the rotator cuff can become weak or unstable, leading to pain when performing everyday activities like raising your arm above your head or reaching out to grab something.

What Does the Rotator Cuff Do?

Your rotator cuff muscles, the subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor work together to give you the ability to open a door or throw a football. They are located on all sides of your shoulder blade—with the subscapularis in front, supraspinatus at the top, and infraspinatus and teres minor both situated at the back - allowing them to rotate as well as aid in abduction, which pulls the arm away from the body.

The rotator cuff’s primary function is to provide stability and strength for the shoulder joint. Providing this stabilization allows us to perform activities that require arm movements like reaching out, lifting or pushing items overhead, and performing sports-related activities.

When the rotator cuff becomes weak or injured, it can often lead to pain and a limited range of motion in the shoulder area. Fortunately, there are exercises that you can do at home to help strengthen your rotator cuff muscles and promote a full recovery! To maximize your performance and recovery, you may also incorporate the incredible pre-workout supplements into your routine. Remember to always consult your health care team before attempting any new exercise post-injury.

Best Exercises to Strengthen & Rehabilitate the Rotator Cuff

If you suffer from rotator cuff issues, the last thing you want to do is add more strain by working out incorrectly. Taking time to strengthen and rehabilitate your rotator cuff is vital to overall shoulder health.

There are several exercises that can help with shoulder pain and increase mobility which is mentioned below.

1. Side-Lying Shoulder Horizontal Abduction

Performing the side-lying shoulder horizontal abduction exercise is a great way to strengthen muscles and provide stability in your body. This movement also helps improve posture, balance, and increases your range of motion.

Regularly doing the side-lying shoulder horizontal abduction can help you become stronger and less susceptible to injury due to its ability to create a more stable foundation for everyday activities. Additional benefits of including it in your workout regimen include healthier hips, improved circulation, better coordination, and overall better health.

How to Do It?

  • Start by lying on your side with your knees and hips slightly bent. Keep your neck neutral by placing a towel or yoga block beneath the head for support.
  • Keep your working arm by your hip and raise your arm straight up into the air. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds.
  • Bring your arm back down to the starting position. Please note that increased neck tension could be a sign of incorrect form.

2. Side-Lying External Rotation

Side-Lying External Rotation is a beneficial exercise to strengthen the shoulder, improve the range of motion, and can decrease pain. It can be used by athletes looking to maximize their arm strength for a particular sport and those with shoulder issues seeking relief.

Additionally, this exercise does not require costly equipment and can quickly be done in the comfort of one’s own home - making it an ideal choice for those trying to stay safe while maintaining fitness.

No doubt side-lying external rotation has excellent potential in improving shoulder strength, flexibility, and comfort.

How to Do It?

  • Begin on your side, with the upper arm snuggled against the ribcage.
  • Bend at the elbow until it reaches a 90-degree angle and pick up a lightweight hex dumbbell.
  • Raise your wrist towards the ceiling while keeping your elbow close to your body to rotate.
  • Only do this movement as much as you feel comfortable with--there's no need to overwork yourself!
  • By making slight increases in weight each time, you can train those small muscles effectively without overexerting them!

3. Banded Scaptions

Banded scaptions are a great way to get the most out of your fitness program. Whether you're a beginner, intermediate, or advanced athlete, using resistance loop bands can help you work on specific muscle groups and provide increased tension during lifts and exercises.

By supporting your limbs and joints, banded scaptions benefit both long-term joint health and injury prevention, as well as increases in power output. As a bonus, bands are compact for versatile training sessions at home or on the go. So if you’re looking to accelerate your fitness goals, give banded scaptions a try for the best results!

How to Do It?

  • Secure the band with your feet together. (Once warmed up, separate them to increase resistance if desired.)
  • Lift your arms at a 45-degree angle to the sides and point your thumbs towards the ceiling.
  • Only lift until they are level with eyesight.
  • Choose an appropriate weight so you don't feel any strain on your shoulders; aim for 8-12 reps of 3 sets.

4. The Swimmer's Exercise

The Swimmer's Exercise is one such exercise that focuses on the core muscles surrounding the rotator cuff, improving flexibility and building strength.

Whether you've recently pushed things too far while exercising or suffered an episode of shoulder pain, doing the Swimmer's Exercise regularly can bring significant relief and restore mobility to your shoulders.

With every repetition of this simple stretching routine, you're doing something beneficial for your body, ultimately helping you achieve stronger, healthier shoulders.

How to Do It?

  • Lie facing the floor with your neck relaxed.
  • Place your hands behind your head, and contract the shoulder blades to lift on the elbows from their resting position.
  • Rotate both arms back and down until each palm is pronated towards the ceiling at hip level; keep continual tension in them as you return them to a starting point near your head.
  • Aim for 8-10 repetitions of this 3 times overall or as tolerated .


1. What is external rotation?

External Rotation is a beneficial exercise to strengthen the shoulder, improve the range of motion, and decrease pain. It can be used by athletes looking to maximize their arm strength for a particular sport and those with shoulder issues seeking relief.

Additionally, this exercise does not require any costly equipment. It can easily be done in the comfort of one’s home—making it an ideal choice for those trying to stay safe while maintaining fitness.

2. What exercises can help with rotator cuff rehabilitation?

A physical therapist can help guide you through the most effective exercises for your specific condition. Still, some of the best exercises to rehabilitate a damaged rotator cuff include internal and external rotation, horizontal abduction and adduction, wall slides, and scapular stabilization drills.

3. How often should I do these exercises?

You should perform each exercise 3 times a week for optimal results. However, pay attention to how your body is feeling during and after each session. Always be sure to consult your physical therapist or doctor when it comes to your health.

4. When can I expect to see results?

The amount of time it will take to rehabilitate your rotator cuff will vary depending on the severity of the injury. However, most people notice a significant improvement in their range of motion and strength within 4-6 weeks of consistent exercise.

The Bottom Line

Exercises for rotator cuff rehabilitation can be a great way to improve your overall shoulder health and strength. However, it is essential to consult a physical therapist before beginning any exercise routine.

A physical therapist can assess your specific needs and create an individualized plan tailored to your goals. As always, make sure you understand the proper technique and form for each exercise to reduce the risk of injury and maximize the benefits of the exercises. Good luck!

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Luna Morin

Luna is a freelance writer, passionate about bringing a positive change in people’s lives by producing well-researched content related to health and fitness. She makes sure that her content is relatable to her audience by exploring the latest trends in fitness.

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