Can You Get a Rotator Cuff Injury From Doing Push-Ups?

Use proper form when doing pushups to prevent rotator cuff injuries.
Image Credit: Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Pushups are a great exercise to add to your routine as they work muscles in your entire body. Primarily, pushups focus on the upper body, working the chest, arms and upper back, but they also activate your core and leg muscles as you hold a straight body plank position.

Muscle soreness, especially if you are not used to doing pushups, is normal. If the soreness doesn't begin to dissipate after a few days, it may be a sign of a more serious injury. Shoulder pain from pushups may happen due to the repetitive motion of pushups, especially if they are done with improper form. This can put pressure on the rotator cuff and cause injury.

Types of Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is composed of four muscles and tendons that attach to the shoulder blade, upper arm and ribs. These tendons help the shoulder joint rotate.

Rotator cuff tendinitis is a common injury. It is the inflammation of one of the tendons in the shoulder joint. The inflammation may cause the tendons to weaken and eventually result in a tear in the tendon. Shoulder bursitis is the inflammation of the fluid that lubricates the rotator cuff tendons.

Besides pushups, other types of repetitive motions may also injure the rotator cuff, including swimming, construction work and painting. Sudden or incorrect movements, such as throwing while playing sports or starting a lawn mower, may also cause injury.

Diagnosis of the Injury

If you experience shoulder or upper arm pain that lasts longer than one week, consult your doctor. Rotator cuff pain from pushups may be from an injury that can worsen and last for years if not diagnosed and properly treated.

Your doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask you to perform various movements to determine the location of the injury. An MRI or X-ray may also be required.

Read more: How to Know if You Have a Rotator Cuff Injury

Treating a Rotator Cuff Injury

In many cases, treatment takes four to six weeks, advises, although it may take longer, depending on the severity of the injury. Treatment options may include rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, corticosteroid injections and physical therapy. Some tears may require surgery to repair the injury.

Exercising With a Rotator Cuff Injury

Certain stretches and exercises will help relieve pain and strengthen the rotator cuff. Consult your doctor or physical therapist before performing any exercise with a rotator cuff injury.

Preventing Pushup Injuries

Proper form will help prevent shoulder pain from pushups:

  1. Start in a plank position. Your hands should be under your shoulders with your arms straight.
  2. Straighten your legs and keep your body straight and your spine in a neutral position.
  3. Bend your elbows to lower your chest close to the floor.
  4. Straighten your elbows to raise your body back up to the starting position.

As you perform the pushup, keep your core tight and straight. Do not allow your back to sag or your hips to rise up.

Performing the pushup too fast or lowering too far down with incorrect elbow position may cause extreme external rotation in your shoulder and contribute to rotator cuff problems. Make the motion as smooth as possible to avoid jarring your shoulder.

If you are out of shape or just adding pushups to your workout routine, start with low repetitions as you build up your strength. You can also try pushup variations, like a wall pushup or a pushup with your knees on the floor.


Sore shoulder muscles from pushups are normal, but pain is not. If pushups hurt your shoulder, stop and consult your doctor to avoid injury.

Read more: Pushups Causing Pain

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911. If you think you may have COVID-19, use the CDC’s Coronavirus Self-Checker before leaving the house.