How to Stretch a Rotator Cuff

It is important to stretch your rotator cuff in order to help make sure that your shoulders are healthy.
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The rotator cuff is composed of four small muscles deep within in the shoulder that help hold the ball in the socket of your shoulder joint. These muscles can become tight, and rotator cuff stretches can help.


The rotator cuff muscles include supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Tears and strains in these 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.

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Stretching the rotator cuff daily can maintain range of motion and flexibility to help prevent injuries, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Read more: Weight Training With Rotator Cuff Injuries

1. Cross-Arm Stretch

  1. Raise one arm and move it diagonally across your chest.
  2. With the opposite hand, apply slight pressure on the arm near the elbow.
  3. Press smoothly and evenly without bouncing the arm.
  4. Hold the pressure for about 30 seconds and release. Repeat three times.
  5. Repeat the stretching exercise on the other arm.


2. Behind-the-Back Stretch

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

3. Towel Stretch

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


4. Pendulums

  1. Bend over while you are standing and let your arms hang loosely at your sides.
  2. Swing your arms slowly back and forth 10 times.
  3. While you are 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.
  4. Add weights to the pendulum swing stretching exercise by holding a small 1-pound weight in each hand.



Read more: How to Recover From a Rotator Cuff Injury — Plus 4 Exercises to Help

Perform Rotator Cuff Stretches Daily

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 are likely to be uncomfortable, producing a strong pulling sensation. However, they should never be painful. If a stretch hurts, back off the move until you are more comfortable to avoid tearing tender muscles and tendons.

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

According to, the most commonly injured rotator cuff muscle is the supraspinatus. If you have difficulty raising your arm out to the side — especially when holding a weight in your hand, you might have damaged this muscle.




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.

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