The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that acts to stabilize the shoulder joint during activity. The shoulder joint is one of only two joints in the body that has a wide range of motion in every plane, with the other joint being the hip joint. Without proper strength and flexibility, the rotator cuff muscles are prone to injury, which can be very debilitating and often result in surgery. When weight training with a rotator cuff injury, be sure you have gone through proper rehabilitation with a physical therapist and receive a doctor's consent before weight training.
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The rotator cuff is made up of the infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor muscles. The most common injuries to the rotator cuff are strains and tears of the muscles and tendons. Rotator cuff injuries can happen because of normal wear and tear, aging and the breakdown of collagen fibers, all of which cause the muscles and tendons to be prone to degeneration, reports the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Acute blunt trauma from falling on the shoulder, lifting or pulling heavy objects, and poor posture can also cause rotator cuff injuries.
Rehabilitation and Prevention
Weight training on an injured shoulder will further damage the rotator cuff and cause more harm than benefit. During and after rehab, there are a few shoulder exercises your doctor may have you continue to further strengthen the shoulder, most of them involving scapular retraction and strengthening, shoulder rotation, adduction and abduction. Do not do these exercises if you still have pain and have not seen a doctor.
Dr Farhad O. Moola of the University of British Columbia advises that strengthening the muscles surrounding the scapula, or shoulder blade, will stabilize the shoulder and prevent further injury. These muscles include the rhomboids, latissimus dorsi and trapezius. Seated and standing bent over rows will retract the scapula and support the shoulder. Lat pull-downs are ideal for strengthening the latissimus dorsi. Reverse flys will help strengthen the rear deltoids, the trapezius and rhomboids. Sports Fitness Advisor recommends rotator cuff exercises where you hold a very light weight, bend the elbow at 90 degrees and externally and internally rotate the arm.
According to the American Council on Exercise, weight training exercises to increase the strength of the scapula should be done before attempting to strengthen the rotator cuff. For the first three to four weeks following a doctors release after rehabilitation, scapula exercises should be completed at a light weight, about 15 to 20 repetitions two to three times per week. For the next six to eight weeks, progress to 12 to 15 repetitions at a slightly heavier weight. Rotator cuff exercises can be incorporated in addition to the scapular retraction exercises.
Do not do any exercises where you lift dumbbells or a barbell directly over your head, such as a military press or shoulder press, because those exercises require extreme shoulder stability and can further damage the rotator cuff. Do not do lateral raises where your arms are directly out to the side of your body. Bring them closer to your midline so you can see both arms out of your peripheral vision.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Rotator Cuff Tears
- Sports Fitness Advisor: Forearm and Rotator Cuff Exercises
- University of British Columbia: Orthopedic Surgery: Scapular Stabilizing Muscles: Rehabilitation Protocol
- "Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist Manual”; American Council on Exercise; 2009