Isometric Rotator Cuff Exercises for Shoulder Rehab

5 Basic Shoulder Rehab Isometric Exercises to Build Shoulder Strength

Rotator Cuff Isometric External Rotation Exercise. Credit: E Quinn

Shoulder rehab exercises often begin with small, simple movements and progress to more difficult exercises as you heal. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that are often injured due to overuse and traumatic shoulder injuries, such as a fractured clavicle (collarbone). A torn rotator cuff is also common in sports that require overhead movements, such as throwing or reaching.

Because every injury is unique, it's important to work closely with your physician and physical therapist to design a rehabilitation program that includes exercises specific to your injury, fitness level, and fitness goals.

Rehab exercise programs are designed primarily to help the athlete regain full range of motion and full strength to return to sports safely and quickly.

Isometric or static exercises are often used in the early part of injury rehab. During isometric exercises, you contract your muscles without movement. This maintains or builds muscle strength without risking joint damage as you heal. Isometric rotator cuff exercises are common rehab exercises used for shoulder injuries.

How to Do Isometric Rotator Cuff Exercises

To do these exercises, you only need a wall and doorway, but you may also want a small pillow or folded towel to use as a cushion between your arm and the wall for comfort.

For photos and more step by step instructions of these shoulder isometric exercises, be sure to check out Isometric Shoulder Exercises. Use the number of repetitions as recommended by your physical therapist. We have five repetitions listed as a starting point.

1. Isometric Shoulder External Rotation: Stand sideways along a wall or doorway with your elbow at a 90-degree angle. Place the outside of your forearm against the wall or doorway. Make a fist. Gently press into the wall, contracting your muscles for 5 seconds but don't move your shoulder. Repeat five times.

2. Isometric Shoulder Abduction: This is a similar position, only the arm is straight down at your side. Make a fist and gently press into the wall. Hold for five seconds. Repeat five times.

3. Isometric Shoulder Internal Rotation: For this next one, a doorway works best due to the angle. Bend your arm at a the elbow in a 90-degree angle. Turn around and place the inside of your forearm against the wall. Press gently into the wall, contracting your muscles for five seconds but not moving your shoulder. Repeat five times.

4. Isometric Shoulder Extension: Now extend your arm straight down. With your back to the wall, make a fist and gently press it into the wall behind you. Hold for five seconds. Repeat five times.

5. Isometric Shoulder Flexion: Face the wall, continuing to have your arm bent 90-degrees at the elbow. Place your fist on the wall and gently press into the wall for 5 seconds. Don't move your shoulder. Repeat 5 times.

Tips for These Isometric Exercises

  • You can do these exercises seated if you prefer, although you may want to use an object such as a chair back to press against rather than a wall or doorway.
  • Always follow the instructions provided by your physical therapist and any variations that she suggests.

    More About Shoulder Health and Exercises


    Rotator cuff exercises, MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 5/9/2015.

    Shoulder Surgery Exercise Guide, OrthoInfo, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2007.

    Continue Reading