Rotator Cuff Therapy Exercises

A Bad Rotator Cuff Strain

What is a rotator cuff strain?

Lots of people talk about sprains and strains but very few actually know the difference. So let’s put that right straight away!

A sprain is an injury to a ligament and a strain is an injury to a muscle or a tendon. A ligament is a fibrous, thick, tough tissue that connects bone to bone.

The primary purpose of the body’s ligaments is to hold your skeleton together in a normal alignment. A tendon such as a rotator cuff tendon is a tough fibrous tissue attaches muscle to bone.

The rotator cuff is composed of a group of four muscles with associated tendons. When discussing a rotator cuff strain therefore we are always talking about a rotator cuff tendon or muscle injury.

What causes a rotator cuff strain?

As we know muscles are responsible for an almost limitless range of movements in the human skeleton. When any rotator cuff muscle contracts it pulls on a rotator cuff tendon. The tendons are connected to bones such as the scapula and humerus (upper arm). It is this contracting action that allows the arm to move.

Let’s be clear, rotator cuff muscles are made to stretch. Problems occur when the muscles are stretched too far or if they are stretched whilst contracting. This is when you become susceptible to a strain or even rotator cuff tears. This is a very common cause of shoulder pain rotator cuff problems.

A cuff strain can be caused by chronic or acute activities. Chronic being injuries developed over a period of time such as overuse / repetitive injuries. Acute injuries have a more sudden onset such as a fall.

It follows therefore that those who are most at risk of a cuff strain will be those involved in sports or activities requiring a lot of overhead work. It is these types of activity that will exercise rotator cuff muscles the most. The lists below give a flavour but there are many, many more!


  • Tennis
  • Throwing sports
  • Baseball
  • Climbing
  • Fishing

Rotator Cuff Strain


  • Painting / decorating
  • Electrician
  • Mechanic
  • Cleaner
  • Construction

How to avoid a rotator cuff strain

There is little that can be done to avoid certain acute onset strains such as those caused by a slip or a trip, accidents will happen. Care can be taken to avoid a more chronic rotator cuff strain from developing. A few sensible precautions can go a long way to reducing the risk

  • Warm up properly
  • Stretch before you exercise
  • Wear / use the correct equipment
  • Rest when tired
  • Be careful

Rotator cuff strain symptoms

The symptoms of a strain are typically

  • pain
  • swelling
  • bruising of the affected joint

There is generally no need to consult a doctor unless any of the following symptoms apply. In this case it will indicate a more serious condition.

  • You have severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured joint.
  • The area over the injured joint or next to it is very tender when you touch it.
  • The injured area looks crooked or has lumps and bumps that you do not see on the uninjured joint.
  • You cannot move the injured joint.
  • You have numbness in any part of the injured area.
  • You see redness or red streaks spreading out from the injury.
  • You injure an area that has been injured several times before.

Rotator cuff strain treatment

A successful treatment of a rotator cuff strain is often achieved using the “RICE” method.


During the first 24 – 48 hours after an injury you must rest. This is considered by many to be a critical stage. Gradually use the injured joint as much as you can tolerate but avoid anything that causes pain.


Ice the injured joint for no more than 20 minutes at a time, longer periods can do more harm than good. Treatment can be repeated regularly but only once normal sensation has returned following an earlier ice application, every couple of hours is ideal. Try to move the ice around the joint. If it has to be placed still on a joint then place athin towel underneath.


Use compression when elevating the injury in its early stages. Tie a bandage so that it is snug, but not cutting off circulation to the extremity. Therefore if your fingers go cold or blue – LOOSEN THE BANDAGE!!


Try, if possible, to raise the injured shoulder above the level of your heart. This will help to reduce swelling.

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