It’s just as important to strengthen and rehabilitate the rotator cuff as it is to heal it in the first place. Treatment is needed to restore proper function, decrease inflammation and generally heal the shoulder joint. After this, it is crucial to ensure that the muscles that make up the rotator cuff are strengthened and stabilized so the same problem doesn’t happen again.
I prefer a two-part shoulder rehab program – early and late.
Early rehabilitation when the shoulder is not quite 100% is aimed at restoring proper functioning of the shoulder blade and shoulder joints (scapulo-humeral joint). This involves gently activating the muscles around the shoulder blade, which include the rotator cuff muscles. Two examples of such exercises (which are listed in this research paper) are:
1. Inferior Glide – Sit beside a flat surface (such as a table) that is slightly lower than your shoulder. Raise your shoulder to 90 degrees and place your arm flat on the surface. Press down through your fist like you are attempting to return your arm to your side. At the same time, draw your shoulder blade down your back and hold for 5 seconds.
2. Low Row – With your arm at your side, place your hand (palm facing you) on the front edge of a table or counter. Extend your trunk and push your hand into the edge of the table like you are pulling your shoulder back. At the same time, squeeze your shoulder blades backwards and down your back and hold for 5 seconds.
Late shoulder rehabilitation involves more active movements of the rotator cuff including internal rotation, external rotation and abduction. I’ve included a copy of the handout I use below.
The main thing to remember about rotator cuff rehab is to make sure all movements are done in a pain-free zone. Any pain or pinching indicates impingement or irritation a structure and will further aggravate the condition. And finally, make sure you consult a health care provider in order to get a proper diagnosis for your shoulder, and get the right exercises to help your specific condition.