How to Stretch a Rotator Cuff

Beautiful sportswoman stretching shoulder and arm outdoors
A woman stretching her rotator cuff after a jog. (Image: Dirima/iStock/Getty Images)

The rotator cuff is comprised of four small muscles deep within in the shoulder that hold your arm bone in the shoulder socket. These muscles also contribute to the inward and outward rotation of your arm. Tears and strains in the rotator cuff muscles are common injuries, especially in those who play sports that involve the arms and people who work in jobs that require repetitive arm motions. Stretching the rotator cuff daily can strengthen the shoulders as well as help prevent injuries.

Step 1

Stand or sit to stretch your rotator cuff muscles throughout the day. Raise one arm and move it diagonally across your chest. With the opposite hand, apply slight pressure on the arm near the elbow. Press smoothly and evenly without bouncing the arm. Hold the pressure for about 30 seconds and release. Repeat the stretching exercise on the other arm.

Step 2

Put both hands behind your back and clasp them together. Raise your hands upward as high as you can without causing pain in your shoulders. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, and be careful not to bounce. Let your hands drop back to the resting position and repeat the stretch two or three times.

Step 3

Roll up a towel and hold one end above and slightly behind your head. Grab the other end of the towel with the opposite hand behind your back. Pull lightly up on the towel with the higher hand. Tug until you feel the stretch and hold the position for 30 seconds. Release and repeat the exercise on the other side.

Step 4

Bend over while you're standing, and let your arms hang loosely toward the ground. Swing your arms slowly back and forth 10 times. While still bending over, swing one arm at a time in a circular motion, gradually widening the circle for a count of 30. Continue to take deep breaths. Add weights to the pendulum swing stretching exercise by holding small 1 lb. weights in each hand.

Tip

Build rotator cuff stretching into your daily routine. Do shoulder stretching at your desk every couple of hours to avoid strain and stress. Use the resting periods during your strength training workouts to add a few rotator cuff stretches. Stretches should never be painful. If a stretch hurts, back off until you are more comfortable to avoid tearing tender muscles and tendons.

Warning

If you feel you have injured your shoulder, check with a physical therapist or doctor prior to stretching your shoulder.

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