If you've ever suffered from a rotator cuff injury you know just how painful and frustrating it can be. Not only does it likely stop you from working out, but even doing simple every day activities can pose to be a challenge.
Rotator cuff injuries are probably one of the most frequent injuries experienced by athletes and non-athletes because there are so many different tendons and ligaments surrounding your shoulder.
The rotator cuff muscles include the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the subscapularis and the teres minor, all of which are innervated by the subscapular and axillary nerves. The tendons of the rotator cuff combine to form one large band that is a 5 layer-structure.
Most of the tears that occur to the cuff are the result of chronic, ongoing degeneration that results from the coracoacromial arch. This is composed of the bony acromion, the coracoacromial ligament and the coracoid process. This arch is located just above where the supraspinatus tendon must pass through so this constant rubbing and microtrauma leads to potential injury.
Pain is going to be the most commonly noticed symptom of a rotator cuff injury and is usually located anterolaterally and superiorly. It will be aggravated during activities in which the arm moves into an overhead position or is in a flexed position directly in front of you. You may also notice that your shoulder feels weaker than normal and that there is some stiffness or clicking occurring.
More times than not treatment for a rotator cuff injury is going to involve rehabilitation exercises and rest. In extreme cases however more serious action needs to be taken. This could involve steroid injections to help relieve inflammation and pain or surgery, which may be needed if the tear is really large. If surgery is what you decide to do then normally they will remove a bone spur or calcium deposit that is causing the issue.
If your condition is extremely severe and continues to persist for an ongoing period of time though then the doctor may suggest that you get a partial or total shoulder replacement. This is usually only a resort though for those who are suffering from arthritis or extensive rotator cuff tears.
Exercises To Do
In terms of exercises to do to both recover from and prevent future rotator cuff injuries, you will want to focus on both exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles themselves as well as the shoulder stabilizing and bicep muscles.
Rotator Cuff Muscles
Performing internal rotations with either dumbbells or rubber tubing is a very good exercise to start with. Remember to start with a lighter weight and move slowly through the movement when first starting out. After that you should move onto an external rotation, also using either dumbbells or rubber tubing so as to balance out these muscles.
Next you should perform a series of lateral raises, slightly altering your hand position for each one. For each one you will start by holding a light dumbbell in your hand. Then use three different hand grips, thumbs facing the ceiling (palms facing inwards), palms facing the ground, and thumbs facing the ground, raise the dumbbell up to shoulder level.
Note that you should perform 8-12 reps per arm per hand position. This will really help to target your shoulder muscle from a variety of different angles.
Scapula Stabilizing Muscles
Moving onto the scapular stabilizing exercises, performing a shoulder blade squeeze is a great start. Simply sit, back upright, in a chair and squeeze the shoulder blades as close together as you can. Hold this position for 10 seconds and then repeat 3 more times.
Moving on from that you can perform some wall push-ups, really focusing on moving deep into the movement so as to fully contract the shoulder blades.
To advance from using the wall, you can do it on lower surfaces such as your kitchen counter or even better off of an aerobic step.
The final exercise to do for these muscles is a bent over row using dumbbells. While performing this exercise really concentrate on pulling from just under the shoulder blade rather than using the bicep muscles to assist the movement. It is best to do this one arm at a time to really feel the pull and contraction of the back muscles.
Concluding the exercises you should perform for rotator cuff injury prevention are any type of bicep curls. There are a multitude of options here, from dumbbell curls to barbell curls to EZ-bar curls so you should have no problems finding a way to strengthen this muscle group.
Most importantly, like any injury you must remember not to just jump back into your workout once you think you have recovered. Chances are your muscles are still going to be slightly weaker even once you have healed so it's smart to start out with a slightly reduced weight for all of your upper body exercises.
Pushing too hard is only going to set yourself up for risking re-injuring it again and going through the entire process once more is something I am sure you do not wish to do.