Stretches and Exercises for Rotator Cuff

We’ve compiled the best stretches and exercises for rotator cuff muscles. Use these often to avoid and or to recover after rotator cuff surgery.

If you’ve found that your shoulder hurts a lot, you should consider trying stretches and exercises for shoulder pain. These types of stretches and exercises are great at alleviating distress and will help you relax. 

Be sure to include stretches and exercises for your rotator cuff muscles in with your full body stretches before your workouts. Bodyweight workouts typically are safer than lifting weights for your rotator cuff. However, it’s a good idea to stretch before your workout either way.

How to Relax Rotator Cuff Muscles

The best exercise or stretch for relaxing your rotator cuff is the Crossover Arm Stretch Exercise. Follow the directions below for a good relaxing stretch on your rotator cuff muscles.

Crossover Arm Stretch Exercise

Crossover Arm Stretch Exercise for Rotator Cuff

Relax your shoulders and gently pull your right arm across your chest as far as possible while you use your left hand to hold it. You will feel a stretch in the posterior deltoid muscle, which is found at the back of your shoulder.

Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and then return your arm back to your side. Take a deep breath and repeat the stretching exercise on the other arm. 

How to Loosen Tight Shoulder Tendons

There are two stretches and exercises that we believe are particularly helpful for loosening tight shoulder tendons. These are:

How to do Shoulder Raises

Stand straight with your arms by your side and lift your shoulders towards your ears. Hold this pose for 2 seconds, and lower your shoulders back down. 

Shoulder Rolls Workout

Shoulder Rolls workout is an exercise standing or sitting, whichever is more comfortable for you. First, roll your shoulders up back and down while your arms stay to your side. Complete this motion ten times on one side and then move your shoulders up forward and down ten times. 

How to Warm Up the Rotator Cuff

Warming up your rotator cuffs before doing any exercise that involves them is important because it protects the joints in the area from injury. Rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common types of injuries among active people. 

Arm Circles are one of our favorite stretches and exercises for rotator cuff muscles. Try warming up your rotator cuff and your shoulders before a bodyweight workout at home with an arm circle exercise.

How to do Arm Circles Correctly

Arm circles are a great way to get blood flow to your shoulders before a workout. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and lift your arms straight to your sides like a ‘T.’ Move your arms in small clockwise circles 10 to 15 times. Remember to keep your arms straight; don’t bend them at the elbows. 

Take a small break and then repeat the exercise in a counterclockwise direction.

How to do Arm Circles Correctly - Rotator Cuff Exercise

How to Use Resistance Bands for Rotator Cuff Exercises?

There are many stretches and exercises for rotator cuffs that use resistance bands. Finding them is very easy. The tricky part is getting the right resistance. Your physical therapist is the only one who can give you this information, so it is important to consult them before purchasing one. 

Stretch Band Exercises for Rotator Cuff

Here are our favorite stretch band exercises for your rotator cuff muscles. We’ve listed the two exercises below.

Shoulder External Rotation 

If you want to include a resistance band in your workout, you have to try shoulder external rotations. Start by tying your rotator cuff to a stable object on a doorknob. If you choose the latter, make sure nobody opens the door while you’re exercising. 

Then stand perpendicular to the door, meaning one shoulder towards the door and the other away from it, with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hold the band in your right hand and bend your elbow at a right angle. 

Hold your elbow right next to your body and your hand on top of your stomach. Slowly move your shoulder outwards. Move your hand accordingly until your hand’s backside faces behind you. Hold this position for two seconds and then return to the original pose. 

Repeat this motion 7 to 12 times and then repeat on the other side. 

Resisted Shoulder Extension 

Another great rotator cuff exercise is the resisted shoulder extension. Set up the band as before and stand straight in front of it. Slowly pull it back towards you with your arms straight. Hold the stretch for two seconds and then return to the original pose. Repeat 10 to 15 times.  

How to Train Your Rotator Cuff

Training your rotator cuff requires a series of stretches and exercises. The best ones include:

Arm Reach Warm Up Exercise

For the Arm Reach warm-up exercise, you will start with your feet shoulder-width apart. You extend your arms to the ceiling with elbows and arms straight. This is a very slight movement as you extend your arms toward the ceiling using only your shoulder blades.

Lying Down External Shoulder Rotation

Start by lying down on your side and slightly bend your knees. Brace your head with your arm or a pillow. Place your arm by your side slightly bent at a 90-degree angle. Hold a weight in your hand. Slowly while using your shoulder raise your arm toward the ceiling. Don’t move your elbow during this exercise. Then lower your arm back down again.

You can use a pillow or water bottle under your arm near the elbow for support. See how in the video below.

Crossover Arm Stretch Exercise

This is the same exercise we described above in the How to Relax Rotator Cuff Muscles section. I’ll give a brief overview however for the full description scroll back up.

Relax your shoulders and gently pull your right arm across your chest as far as possible while you use your left hand to hold it. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds then take a deep breath and repeat the stretching exercise on the other arm. 

Wall Angels Stretch

This exercise is also known as the Two Arm Wall Stretch. You will start with your back to the wall and put both arms straight out to your sides. Bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle so your hands are pointing straight to the ceiling.

Your hands should be just slightly higher than your head with your elbows still at the 90-degree angle. Make sure your back is flat against the wall.

Slowly lower your arms until your hands are in line with your head. Then slowly raise your arms until your hands go well above your head moving your elbows past the 90-degree angle. Then return back to your starting position.

Here is a video of the Wall Angels Stretch if you would like to see a visual.

Should You Stretch a Rotator Cuff Injury

While you’re in pain because of a rotator cuff injury, reaching out up or overhead is a bad idea. You don’t want to stop moving your shoulder altogether but stretching it is not recommended. Low intensity stretches like weighted pendulum exercises are okay, but that is as far as you should go.

Once your injury starts improving, you can start doing stretches and exercises for shoulder pain.

How to Recover Faster From Rotator Cuff Surgery

There are a couple of ways to hasten your recovery. Firstly, wear your shoulder sling. It can be a nuisance because the full motion of your arm is limited, but it is vital. 

Secondly, sign up for physical therapy. These programs have specially designed exercises to increase your shoulder strength, flexibility, and range of motion. 

Thirdly, stop taking pain medication as soon as it is comfortable for you. The reduced sensation can make it easy to overdo your physical therapy and set your recovery back. 

Fourthly, avoid putting too much stress on your rotator cuff. Activities like lifting objects, reaching behind your body, and raising your arm overhead should be avoided. 

What Exercises to Avoid After Rotator Cuff Surgery?

Avoid all stretches and exercises for rotator cuff that ask you to reach, lift, pull, or push with your shoulder during the first six weeks after surgery. You should not reach behind your back with the arm you just had surgery on. You can remove your arm from the sling to bend and straighten your elbow. However, this should remain the extent of your arm’s physical exertion. 

Any more will set your recovery back. 

Some specific exercises you should avoid in the gym are:

  • Lifting weights above your head
  • Behind the neck pulldown
  • Upright row
  • Behind the neck press
  • Bench or tricep dips

Wrap Up 

We’ve highlighted several stretches and exercises for rotator cuff muscles. If you include them in your workout, your rotator cuff will heal in no time. You should avoid putting too much strain on yourself and your arm, though. It is vital not to rush your recovery, or you’ll just worsen the injury.