The rotator cuff consists of four muscles --- supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor --- that come together to form one band of muscle in a five-layer structure in your upper arm, the Bodybuilding website explains. Responsible for various shoulder movements, the rotator cuff can be susceptible to frequent injuries, particularly in anyone who performs repeated overhead activities. As a result, rehabilitation programs incorporate functional exercises such as the push-up to regain strength and function in the rotator cuff.
While the main function of the rotator cuff is to rotate and stabilize the humerus, it also provides muscular balance against other powerful muscles such as the latissimus dorsi, according to the University of Washington Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. Push-ups, therefore, serve as a functional exercise to increase the strength and stability of the shoulder joint and surrounding muscles. With a properly designed injury-prevention or rehab program, push-ups can also strengthen the rotator cuff.
You can perform a variety of push-ups for rotator cuff exercises. Each variation of the push-up is dependent on strength and fitness levels. To determine the appropriate push-up to improve rotator cuff strength, perform a basic strength or stress test. For example, if you experience pain in the plank prone position, start with a wall push-up that reduces the amount of stress placed on the shoulder and rotator cuff.
Regardless of the starting point with push-ups variations, the time frame associated with rotator cuff rehabilitation is dependent on each individual. Perform a total of 10 to 15 repetitions for two to three sets at least three days per week and progress as necessary based on strength increases and pain levels. The Sports Injury Bulletin website recommends increasing workload by no more than 10 percent per week and full range of motion, and advises that strength should be achieved within six weeks of rehabilitation.
Proper form and technique is crucial for push-ups to strengthen rotator cuffs without damaging the muscle or joint. Start every push-up with stabilizing the scapula --- also known as the shoulder blade --- by squeezing the shoulder blades together, Sports Injury Bulletin instructs. As you lower down into the push-up, continue squeezing the shoulder blades to improve the strength and function of the rotator cuff.
Following a training or rehabilitation program from a physician, athletic trainer or physical therapist can improve the strength of your rotator cuff while preventing muscle imbalances. You may need to add supplementary exercises, such as bent-over rows or isolation exercises, based on individual weaknesses or strengths.