After a rotator cuff injury has been allowed to rest and heal for a period of time, most patients will need to start a program of rotator cuff rehabilitation exercises to reduce the development of scar tissue, maintain range of motion, and strengthen the muscles in the area. Patients will typically start slowly with simple stretching exercises like shoulder rolls, overhead reaches, and pressing the hand against a wall. They can gradually move up to strengthening exercises focused on the rotator cuff and surrounding muscles. Over time, as strength improves, exercises using resistance from weights or bands may also be added to increase strength further.
The first rotator cuff rehabilitation exercises a patient will normally do are those designed to stretch the muscles, to keep the shoulder from developing scar tissue and losing flexibility. Simple moves like bending and allowing the arms to hang down, tilting the head to the side, and rolling the shoulders are all good to begin with. As flexibility increases, patients will typically move on to exercises that stretch the muscles further and increase range of motion, such as cross-body stretches, reaching overhead or to the side, and pushing against a wall or doorway to extend the arm back.
Patients will also want to slowly start incorporating strengthening rotator cuff rehabilitation exercises into their routine to improve their ability to use their shoulders and to provide stability as well. Light exercises like shoulder shrugs, bicep and tricep curls, and shoulder blade squeezes can be used for this purpose, though they should be stopped before they cause pain. Other moves that can be used include push-ups on the wall, lying on the back and pressing the arms and shoulders upward, and lying on the stomach and raising the chest with the arms.
Once a patient has reached the point where his or her pain is minimal and strength and flexibility have started to return, he or she may wish to enhance the rotator cuff rehabilitation exercises with hand weights or resistance bands. Doing rotations with a resistance band can help give a deeper stretch, while doing moves like rows or cross-body pulls with it can help build strength. Many exercises can also be enhanced by adding dumbbells, which should start very light (probably around 3 pounds or 1 kg) and slowly increase in weight. Some types of exercises that can be done this way include bicep curls, lateral arm raises, and lying presses.