Shoulder Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises with a Resistance Band

Rotator Cuff Strengthening Exercises

Photo of a baseball pitcher.
Rotator cuff exercises can help you rehab your shoulder injury. Thomas Barwick/ Getty Images

Shoulder pain can limit your ability to move your arm properly during basic tasks like reaching to put away dishes or brushing your hair. There are many causes of shoulder pain including arthritis, a rotator cuff or labrum tear, or a shoulder dislocation.

Physical therapy for shoulder pain typically focuses on decreasing your pain and improving your shoulder range of motion (ROM) and strength so you can regain normal function. Your physical therapist may use therapeutic modalities like ultrasound, heat, or ice to help you manage your pain. Although these may feel good, active exercises are essential to helping you regain normal mobility in your shoulder after injury.

Exercises to help increase your shoulder strength may be prescribed by your physical therapist. The exercises contained in this step-by-step article are common shoulder exercises to help strengthen your shoulder and rotator cuff muscles.

If you have shoulder pain or have had shoulder surgery, you should ask your doctor if physical therapy is needed to help you improve your shoulder mobility. Also, be sure to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any exercise program and before attempting the exercises in this article.

Before starting these strengthening exercises, you must obtain a resistance band. You can purchase these bands at your local sporting goods store, or your local outpatient physical therapy clinic might be happy to provide you with some for a small fee. Be sure to get the right resistance. Usually different color bands indicate different amounts of resistance in the band. Again, a quick consult with your physical therapist here can ensure that you are using a band with the proper resistance.

Exercise 1: External Rotation

The first rotator cuff exercise is shoulder external rotation. Start by tying your resistance band to a stable object or on a closet doorknob. Make sure you use a door that no one will open while you are performing the exercise.

Stand perpendicular to the door with your feet about shoulder width apart. Hold the band in the hand of the shoulder you wish to exercise and bend your elbow 90 degrees. Keep your elbow tucked into the side of your body with your hand over your navel, and then slowly rotate your shoulder outwards. Your hand should move outward until the back of your hand faces behind you. Hold the end position for two seconds, and then slowly allow your arm to return to the starting position. Repeat for ten to fifteen repetitions.

After a set of ten to fifteen repetitions, you are ready to move on to the next exercise.

Shoulder Internal Rotation

Rotator cuff strengthening is simple with a resistance band.
Use a resistance band to help strengthen the muscles responsible for shoulder internal rotation. Brett Sears, PT, 2012

With your resistance band still attached to the door, turn around 180 degrees and hold the end of your band in the hand of the shoulder you are exercising. You should still be perpendicular to the door. You may need to step away from the door a step or two to keep tension on the band.

Keep your elbow bent 90 degrees and tucked into the side of your body. This time, though, your hand starts near the doorknob. Then, slowly pull your hand in toward your navel. Be sure to keep good posture and keep your elbow bent and tucked into the side of your body. Hold your hand into your navel for two seconds, and then slowly return to the start position. Repeat this motion slowly for ten to fifteen repetitions. Then move on to the next exercise.

Resisted Shoulder Extension

You can use a resistance band to strengthen your rotator cuff.
Strengthen your shoulder extensors with this therapy band exercise. Brett Sears, PT, 2012

Shoulder extension with a resistance band is done by making sure your band is securely tied to a closet doorknob or other stable object. Stand facing the door with the band in one hand. Be sure there is slight tension on the band.

While keeping upright posture, slowly pull the band backwards while keeping your arm straight. Your hand should move just slightly past your hip. Hold this end position for two seconds, and then slowly return to the starting position. Be sure to control the motion; the band should not allow your arm to snap back to the starting position.

Repeat this motion ten to fifteen repetitions and then move on to the final shoulder strengthening exercise.

Shoudler Abduction Using a Resistance Band

Therapy tubing can help you strengthen your rotator cuff muscles.
You can use resistance bands to help improve shoulder abduction strength. Brett Sears, PT, 2012

Stand perpendicular to the door that has your therapy band attached to it, and hold the end of the resistance band in the hand furthest from the door. Keep your elbow straight with your arm at your side, and then slowly lift your arm out to the side. Be sure that your arm stays in line with your body and does not move too far forward or behind you.

Lift your arm out to the side until it is not quite parallel with the floor, and hold this position for two seconds. Then slowly lower your arm back to your side to the starting position. Repeat ten to fifteen repetitions.

These shoulder strengthening exercises are great for regaining strength in weakened rotator cuff muscles after injury or after shoulder surgery. Performing these exercises too often may cause significant muscle soreness, so it is a good idea to only do these exercises 3-4 times per week.

By keeping your shoulders strong, you may be able to regain normal function. Strong shoulder and rotator cuff muscles may also help to prevent future episodes of shoulder pain.

Again, be sure to consult your physical therapist or doctor before starting any exercise program.

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