7 Exercises to Avoid with Rotator Cuff Injury – Facts & Physio (2022)

Rotator cuff injuries are like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get. Each injury is different.

Before we dive into the worst exercises for rotator cuff injury, you should know these 3 rotator cuff facts:

  1. It’s normal to have a partial tear in your rotator cuff and not even know it. Most rotator cuff tears do not cause pain! (1)
  2. Rotator cuff tears respond similarly to conservative treatment vs. shoulder surgery (2)
  3. A massive rotator cuff tear may require surgical intervention

The rotator cuff muscles stabilize the glenohumeral joint, a ball and socket joint that looks like a golf ball on a tee.

7 Exercises to Avoid with Rotator Cuff Injury – Facts & Physio (1)

Several exercises consistently irritate the rotator cuff and worsen shoulder pain. However, each shoulder issue is unique. It’s crucial to monitor your own symptoms and understand which exercises make your shoulder hurt. Then, modify or avoid painful exercises.

These 7 shoulder exercises can exacerbate rotator cuff problems and lead to further injury.

Upright Row

The upright row targets the deltoid muscles. Unfortunately, it puts the shoulder joint into loaded internal rotation, a classic shoulder impingement position.

7 Exercises to Avoid with Rotator Cuff Injury – Facts & Physio (2)

Shoulder impingement occurs when the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) compresses the rotator cuff tendons under the acromion, in the subacromial space.

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Dealing with shoulder impingement? Check out the article below for shoulder strengthening exercises to fast-track your recovery.

(Video) 3 Keys to Rehab a Rotator Cuff Tear & AVOID Surgery [UNIQUE EXERCISES]

Read More: How to Relieve Shoulder Impingement

Instead: In lieu of upright rows, perform face pulls with a rope attachment or resistance band. Keep your pinkies forward (palms facing inward) to put the shoulder joints in a comfortable, externally rotated position.

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Behind-the-Neck Overhead Press

This exercise places the shoulders in extreme horizontal abduction and external rotation–a bad recipe for sore shoulders.

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Plus, it puts a lot of strain on the neck. And there’s little benefit from doing this exercise instead of normal overhead presses.

Instead: Perform standing overhead presses with a barbell or dumbbells. These variations place less strain on the shoulders and beef up the shoulder muscles just as effectively.

In some cases, rotator cuff injuries won’t tolerate overhead movements. Know your limits.

Behind-the-Neck Pull Down

Are you seeing a theme yet? Behind-the-neck exercises aren’t worth the neck and shoulder strain.

Instead: Do regular lat pull-downs, touching the bar to your chest on each repetition.

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For irritable shoulder pain, opt for a v-bar attachment. This accessory allows you to perform pull downs with the palms facing inward–a happy, neutral position for your shoulders.

Shoulder Fly

Also known as a lateral raise, this exercise is likely to irritate the rotator cuff if 1) it’s performed too high, with the hands going above shoulder level, or 2) the thumbs point downward, placing the shoulders in an internally rotated (impingement) position.

(Video) How To Heal A Rotator Cuff Tear Without Surgery

7 Exercises to Avoid with Rotator Cuff Injury – Facts & Physio (8)

Instead: Do the same exercise, just use less weight, less range of motion, or keep the thumbs up throughout the movement.

Triceps Dips

Also called bench dips, this exercise internally rotates and extends the glenohumeral joint–the ball-and-socket shoulder joint. This position creates a lot of stress on the anterior shoulder structures, such as the long head of the biceps tendon, subscapularis muscle, and anterior shoulder capsule.

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Instead: Perform skull crushers (lying triceps extensions) with the palms facing inward. This exercise blasts the triceps while keeping the shoulders in a neutral, mid-range position.

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Elbow-Out Lawnmower Row

Popularized by P90X, this row variation puts the shoulder close to an impingement position. It also encourages sub-optimal “pulling” motor patterns.

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Instead: Opt for an elbow-in lawnmower row. For maximal comfort, scrape the ribcage with the upper arm, keeping the elbow close to the side. Use this technique with any pulling activities–opening doors, starting the lawnmower, and lifting groceries from the car trunk.

Be sure to retract your scapula (pull your shoulder blade down and back) to target the rhomboids and trapezius muscles.

Kipping Pull-ups

There’s a lot to love about CrossFit–the social support, high intensity, competition, and barbell lifts. But not kipping pull-ups.

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Kipping pull-ups encourage speed, momentum, and quantity of repetitions. Unless you know what you’re doing, kipping pull-ups create significant traction forces on the shoulders–forces that can cause labrum tears and rotator cuff injuries.

Instead: Focus on controlled, high-quality strict pull-ups. Until you master strict pull-ups, kipping pull-ups are a bad idea for achy shoulders.

(Video) [Physical Exercises #7] Prevent shoulder injury.

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Bench Press

I debated whether to include bench press on this list. It can be a great exercise for people with rotator cuff pain…or a terrible exercise. Heavy lifting isn’t 100% contraindicated for shoulder issues, but doing too much of the wrong exercise will make shoulder pain worse.

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Performing the bench press with poor technique puts a lot of stress in the front of the shoulder and contributes to rotator cuff pain. On the flip side, bench pressing with good technique builds a strong chest and protects the upper body from injury.

Research (3) shows that strength training is the best way to prevent injury. Not stretching.

Try these 3 keys to improve your bench press technique:

1) Set Up Tight

To keep the shoulders happy, it’s essential to position the shoulder blades correctly on the bench. Most lifters flop down on the bench with little regard for their upper back or shoulder blade position.

Here’s how to do it right: Retract the shoulder blades, squeezing them together and down before grabbing the barbell. Maintain this position throughout the lift. Shoulder blade retraction shortens the range of motion and protects the shoulders.

2) Optimize Your Grip

Finding the right grip width will make or break your bench press. Most lifters grip the bar too narrow, which increases the range of motion to get the bar to the chest. A narrow grip also increases the shoulder extension motion during the lift.

On the other hand, gripping too wide will keep the shoulder abduction angle near 90° (between the torso and upper arm), which increases stress on the shoulder.

A good rule of thumb is that the forearms should be vertical when the bar is touching the chest, when viewed from in front or behind the lifter. In other words, the wrists are directly above the elbows.

3) Listen to Your Shoulders

This key applies to every single exercise. If your shoulders feel worse during or after the exercise, it’s a good idea to stop.

Talk with a physical therapist about your lifting program. Rotator cuff issues won’t go away if your workouts keep your shoulder irritated.

For more bench press insights, check out 10 Tips to Bench Press Without Shoulder Pain

(Video) Top 7 Natural Remedies For A Rotator Cuff Tear

Can I Do Push-ups with a Rotator Cuff Injury?

It depends. For some people with shoulder pain, push-ups feel great and build upper body strength. For others, push-ups cause pain…or created the shoulder problems in the first place.

Solid push-up technique keeps achy shoulders happy. The shoulders feel more comfortable with the elbows closer to the body.

A 45° angle between the torso and the upper arm is perfectly acceptable. Experiment with hand position and stick with the hand width that’s most comfortable for you.

If you’re hesitant to try full push-ups, start with wall push-ups and see how your symptoms respond.

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Next, move to counter-top push-ups–or use a barbell as pictured here. Counter-top push-ups are a bit harder than wall push-ups.

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As long as your shoulder doesn’t hurt, progress to kneeling push-ups.

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Still feeling good? Can you do 30 good reps? If so, you’re ready for the real thing!

As with any exercise, it’s important to ease back into your normal push-up routine. If you took 4 weeks off from push-ups and normally do 50 per session, it’s a bad idea to knock out 50 consecutive push-ups your first time back.

Start slow, gradually progress, and reduce repetitions if your shoulder gets aggravated.

The Best Treatment

Most rotator cuff injuries benefit from physical therapy. Consult with a physical therapist for medical advice on your specific situation.

A skilled PT will perform a thorough physical examination to determine the cause of your shoulder pain. Then, he or she will guide you to the proper exercises for your situation. Ultimately, working with a PT will accelerate your shoulder’s healing process.

(Video) 10 Rotator Cuff Exercises for Pain Relief (Non-surgical Rehab)

For more on how to recover quickly, sign up for my email list for exclusive health and recovery insights every week. Plus, get immediate, free access to 7 Secrets to a Fast Recovery!

Readers: What exercises exacerbate your shoulder pain? Have you found any exercises that relieve it? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.

FAQs

What exercises can hurt rotator cuff? ›

Some of the exercises that people should stay away from include: Throwing a ball in an overhead fashion, particularly heavy balls. Avoid swimming, in particular, the strokes that involve an overhand motion. Lifting weights that place stress on the shoulder and rotator cuff.

What exercises are bad for shoulders? ›

Here are the Top 5 Worst Shoulder Exercises To Avoid.
  • Lateral raises with palms down or thumbs down. This position may increase the compression of the rotator cuff muscles against the bony surface in the shoulder. ...
  • Behind the Head Shoulder Press. ...
  • Shoulder Upright rows. ...
  • Triceps bench dips. ...
  • Single-arm rows.

Can I do push ups with a torn rotator cuff? ›

If you know that you have a rotator cuff problem, or even if you suspect one, it's best to avoid regular pushups for a while until you fully heal. In the meantime, wall pushups are a great alternative, as is doing pushups on an elevated surface like a counter or aerobic step.

What is the best exercise for a torn rotator cuff? ›

What Exercises Can I Do With a Torn Rotator Cuff?
  • Standing Row. A simple exercise to help strengthen your rotator cuff muscles is the standing row. ...
  • Internal Rotation. ...
  • Crossover Arm Stretch. ...
  • Posterior Stretch. ...
  • Pendulum swing. ...
  • Chest Exercises. ...
  • Dip Movements. ...
  • Other Shoulder Exercises.
Apr 9, 2019

How can I heal my rotator cuff naturally? ›

Supplements have different functions, and some may help your rotator cuff injury, including:
  1. St. John's wort and arnica can help cure musculoskeletal trauma.
  2. Bromelain—an enzyme found primarily in the stem of a pineapple—is a natural remedy to help reduce inflammation.
  3. Vitamins C and E can help reduce pain.

Can you lift weights with a rotator cuff tear? ›

Don't lift weights with a torn or injured rotator cuff. Wait until you've completed rehab and are released by the doctor to resume activity.

Can you heal a torn rotator cuff with exercise? ›

For many people, physical therapy (PT) is the answer. It may be all you need to treat an injured rotator cuff. PT is a way to get back strength and movement after an injury. It includes things like exercise, ice, heat, massage, and equipment to help return your shoulder back to its normal range of motion.

How long does it take for a torn rotator cuff to heal without surgery? ›

Usually, mild rotator cuff tears or sprains will heal within four weeks. In other severe cases, the recovery might take 4 to 6 months or even longer based on several factors such as the severity of the tear, age, and other health complications.

Can pushups damage shoulders? ›

It may seem silly and unnecessary to address the issues with this exercise, but push-ups, when performed incorrectly, can cause severe damage to the joints and muscles around the shoulders and elbows.

How can I increase blood flow to my rotator cuff? ›

Standing arm swings are excellent for increasing blood flow to your shoulder joint. Another benefit is that they also help improve mobility in your shoulders and upper back. First, you should stand up straight, keeping your arms at your sides. Brace and tighten your core muscles as you swing your arms forward.

What are 2 warning signs of a rotator cuff tear? ›

Signs of a rotator cuff tear include:
  • Difficulty and pain caused by raising your arm.
  • Popping or clicking sounds or sensations when moving your arm.
  • Shoulder pain that worsens at night or when resting your arm.
  • Shoulder weakness and struggling to lift items.
Jan 28, 2021

What is the fastest way to heal tendonitis in the shoulder? ›

Apply ice to the affected area. Take anti-inflammatory medication to reduce arm and shoulder pain. Begin an exercise program to maintain flexibility. Avoid carrying heavy objects with the affected arm or using shoulder-strap bags on the affected side.

How can you tell the difference between a strained rotator cuff and a torn rotator cuff? ›

For starters, both have similar symptoms like pain, swelling, and stiffness. With a tear, the arm can barely move overhead. Tendinopathy tends to happen over months, even years, of overuse. Tears, however, are sharp pains that generally occur after a sports collision or accident.

Can physical therapy make a rotator cuff tear worse? ›

A physical therapist can help you reduce the worsening of the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear and may decrease your risk of worsening a tear, especially if you seek assistance at the first sign of shoulder pain or discomfort.

Should you exercise a torn rotator cuff? ›

For many people, physical therapy (PT) is the answer. It may be all you need to treat an injured rotator cuff. PT is a way to get back strength and movement after an injury. It includes things like exercise, ice, heat, massage, and equipment to help return your shoulder back to its normal range of motion.

Can physical therapy make a rotator cuff tear worse? ›

A physical therapist can help you reduce the worsening of the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear and may decrease your risk of worsening a tear, especially if you seek assistance at the first sign of shoulder pain or discomfort.

Can you do planks with a rotator cuff injury? ›

As a starting point, you should avoid: Overhead pressing exercises such as the military press and shoulder press. Incline pressing exercises such as the incline chest press. Movements that compress the shoulder, such as the plank and downward dog.

How long does it take for a torn rotator cuff to heal without surgery? ›

Usually, mild rotator cuff tears or sprains will heal within four weeks. In other severe cases, the recovery might take 4 to 6 months or even longer based on several factors such as the severity of the tear, age, and other health complications.

Can you lift weights with a rotator cuff tear? ›

Don't lift weights with a torn or injured rotator cuff. Wait until you've completed rehab and are released by the doctor to resume activity.

A strong infraspinatus muscle fortifies the shoulder against injury. For long-term shoulder health, it’s crucial to build sturdy rotator cuff muscles to ward off pain.

The infraspinatus externally rotates and stabilizes the shoulder.. The rotator cuff muscles play an important role in dynamic shoulder stability–they compress the glenohumeral joint and hold the golf ball on the tee.. The infraspinatus muscle contributes to shoulder pain.. However, a pinched nerve in the neck or infraspinatus trigger points create carpal tunnel symptoms.. Patients can experience near-miraculous pain relief for anterior or posterior shoulder pain, elbow pain, wrist pain and hand pain.. Dry needling, manual therapy, and soft tissue mobilization reduce local and referred pain from infraspinatus trigger points.. Isometric exercises mean the muscle is working without moving.. Strengthening the shoulder external rotators (the infraspinatus, teres minor and posterior deltoid muscles) is a must for overhead athletes ( 6 ).. Find the 90-90 position (shoulder and elbow bent to 90 degrees) and slowly externally rotate the shoulder, pulling the hand up and back.. Keep the upper arm fixed, rotating around it as you pull against the band.. Closed kinetic chain (CKC) exercises, like this one, build shoulder strength and stability by bearing weight through the arm.. Trigger points and weakness can lead to shoulder pain, rotator cuff tears, elbow pain, and carpal tunnel symptoms.

Scapular dyskinesis and chronic shoulder pain is a common problem which may seem difficult to treat. The reason for this is that common approaches for ...

Another very relevant example, is that the anterior and middle deltoidal portions will pull the scapula into downward and/or anterior rotations if the opposing “stabilizing” muscles such as the trapezius and serratus anterior aren’t able to hold the scapula properly, i.e aren’t proper co-activating (just like the gluteus maximus would pull the pelvis into posterior tilt if the spinal extensors are inhibited).. Fatigue in shoulder external rotation altered the scapular resting position and the movement of posterior tilting in the early range during arm elevation in the scapular plane.. The scapula demonstrated a pattern of progressive upward rotation, decreased internal rotation, and movement from an anteriorly to a posteriorly tipped position as humeral elevation angle increased.. Relative to the group without impingement, the group with impingement showed decreased scapular upward rotation at the end of the first of the 3 phases of interest, increased anterior tipping at the end of the third phase of interest, and increased scapular medial rotation under the load conditions.. Major conclusions were (1) scapular dyskinesis is present in a high percentage of most shoulder injuries; (2) the exact role of the dyskinesis in creating or exacerbating shoulder dysfunction is not clearly defined; (3) shoulder impingement symptoms are particularly affected by scapular dyskinesis; (4) scapular dyskinesis is most aptly viewed as a potential impairment to shoulder function – Kibler et al., 2013. General patterns of shoulder motion observed during humeral elevation were clavicular elevation, retraction, and posterior axial rotation; scapular internal rotation, upward rotation, and posterior tilting relative to the clavicle; and glenohumeral elevation and external rotation.. It appears that during shoulder elevation, patients with SIS demonstrate a decreased upward scapular rotation, a decreased posterior tilt, and a decrease in external rotation.. Fatigue in shoulder external rotation altered the scapular resting position and the movement of posterior tilting in the early range during arm elevation in the scapular plane.. Glenohumeral flexion with scapular posterior tilt, protraction & medial rotation GH extension with scapular anterior tilt & retraction GH abduction with scapular upward rotation, retraction & lateral rotation GH (ventral) adduction with scapular downward rotation, medial rotation and protraction GH (dorsal) adduction with scapular downward rotation, external rotation and retraction GH horizontal abduction with scapular external rotation and retraction GH horizontal adduction with scapular medial rotation and protraction. Downward rotation during abduction, scapular depression or elevation in loaded patterns, anterior tilting or external rotation during shoulder flexion, and so on.. The scapula requires slight elevation, as well as a lot of upward rotation, some lateral rotation and posterior tilting, in order to properly align with the angle of the arm.. He must be taught to co-contract the scapular stabilizers AND the deltoids & pectorals, so that these do not pull the scapula out of proper position (anterior and medial deltoid as well as pectorals pull the scapula into anterior tilt and downward rotation if not opposed by scapular stabilizers.. If you tell a person with scapular dyskinesis to perform scapular push-ups, even standing against a wall (minimum resistance), the scapula will still tilt anteriorly and rotate downward during protraction, because they’re using the wrong muscles!. Teach proper resting position Guide scapular movement during abduction and flexion in below 90 degrees of elevation Guide scapular movement during abduction and flexion in above 90 degrees of elevation

The infamous thoracic outlet syndrome. TOS is considered to be one of modern medicine’s most difficult issues, because of the complex and variable nature of its symptoms. It has potential to cause numerous types and areas of pain, such as neuralgia in the arms, chest, between the shoulder blades and in the back (figure 1), dizziness, brain fog, [...]

It is absolutely critical to establish proper breathing habits, clavicular resting position and cervical posture, in order to resolve thoracic outlet syndrome.. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) causes dizziness because of positional compression of the vertebral artery with resultant symptoms of vertebrobasilary insufficiency.. Atasoy E. Thoracic outlet compression syndrome.. Treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome.. Thoracic outlet syndrome: a review.. “EMG” for thoracic outlet syndrome.. Muscle Nerve.. Diagnosis of thoracic outlet syndrome.. American Journal of Neuroradiology March 2010, 31 (3) 410-417; DOI: https://doi.org/10.3174/ajnr.A1700 Urschel HC, Kourlis H. Thoracic outlet syndrome: a 50-year experience at Baylor University Medical Center.

The Personal Health Navigator is available to all Canadian patients. Questions about your doctor, hospital or how to navigate the health care system can be sent to AskPaul@Sunnybrook.ca

I posed your question to two specialists at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre: One is a surgeon who performs joint replacement operations and the other is an expert in drug safety.. Many patients, he says, fear that exercise will lead to additional damage of their joints.. At Sunnybrook’s Holland Centre, the assessment process for knee and hip surgery includes patient education about exercise.. And, he says, if medication can relieve pain and enable patients to exercise, that is a good thing.. Acetaminophen, commonly known by the brand name Tylenol, tends to be the most recommended pain reliever for patients like you who have osteoarthritis.. He says most patients can safely consume three or even four grams of acetaminophen day-after-day for long periods.. Furthermore, Dr. Juurlink says acetaminophen tends to result in fewer negative reactions than the alternative non-prescription pain relievers.. (It’s important to mention that acetaminophen is a good pain and fever reliever, but it doesn’t have anti-inflammatory properties.. If a patient has an inflammatory condition, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, then acetaminophen won’t be their drug of choice.). “Put another way, if everyone who was taking acetaminophen became concerned about its safety and switched to an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen, we’d see a major increase in drug-related problems.”. He warns that it’s fairly easy for people to unknowingly take too much acetaminophen in part because it is an extremely common ingredient in numerous over-the-counter products including many of the best-selling cold and flu remedies.. For patients who are already consuming three or four grams daily for pain control, they can quickly move into the danger zone simply by self-medicating for a cold or flu.. “The message for people who are taking acetaminophen regularly is check the ingredients on the other products they are using to make sure they don’t include more of it,” he advises.. So, to recap, the message from our Sunnybrook specialists is two-fold: Exercise is good for patients with osteoarthritis.. Paul Taylor is a health journalist and former Patient Navigation Advisor at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where he provided advice and answered questions from patients and their families.

Videos

1. Exercises for a rotator cuff tear to help you recover quickly
(Dr. David Geier)
2. Complete Guide to Shoulder Rehab (NO SURGERY NEEDED!) - Fix Impingement & Injury Prevention
(Corexcell Sports Training & Rehab)
3. 7 Rotator Cuff Exercises For Pain Relief (Non-Surgery Rehab) (Giveaway)
(Bob & Brad)
4. 7 Minute Rotator Cuff Workout
(Kendal Wilson)
5. 7 Exercises for Pickleball: Improve Your Game and Prevent Injury
(The Senior Centered PT)
6. No 1 Shoulder Impingement Exercises (98% Success Rate!) | FREE Exercise Worksheet!
(Milton Chiropractic Clinic Cambridge)

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