Rotator cuff and exercise
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis) which stabilize the shoulder and provide the shoulder with its strength and range of motion.
From the American Physical Therapy Association
Strengthening of the rotator cuff is good for anyone who engages in activities requiring the use of their arms.
Exercise should not be painful. A light weight and fewer repetitions are advised if there is discomfort. Exercises should be performed slowly. A rule of thumb is to lift with a three count and lower with a six count.
Prior to starting the exercises, apply moist heat to the shoulder for five minutes. Moist heat can be applied using a heating pad or hot water bottle.
The first exercise is called the pendulum or "pot-stirrer.". In the pendulum, you bend at the waist, your arm hangs down. While relaxing the arm and shoulder muscles, move the arm in a gentle clockwise motion for 20 repetitions. Then rotate it in a counterclockwise motion for 20 repetitions.
Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. You may begin to add a light weight after a few days if there is no pain with the exercise. Increase the weight a little each week (but never so much that the weight causes pain): start with 2 ounces the first week, move up to 4 ounces the second week, 8 ounces the next week, and so on.
The next exercise starts with you lying on your stomach on a table or a bed. Put your left arm out at shoulder level with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and your hand down. Keep your elbow bent and slowly raise your left hand. Stop when your hand is level with your shoulder. Lower the hand slowly. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then repeat the whole exercise again with your right arm
The third exercise starts with you lying on your right side with a rolled-up towel under your right armpit. Stretch your right arm above your head. Keep your left arm at your side with your elbow bent to 90 degrees and the forearm resting against your chest, palm down. Roll your left shoulder out, raising the left forearm until it is level with your shoulder. (this is like a backhand swing in tennis.) Lower the arm slowly. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then repeat the whole exercise again with your right arm.
The fourth exercise starts with you lying on your right side. Keep your left arm along the upper side of your body. Bend your right elbow to 90 degrees. Keep the right forearm resting on the table. Now roll your right shoulder in, raising your right forearm up to your chest. (this is like a forehand swing in
tennis.) Lower the forearm slowly. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then repeat the whole exercise again with your other arm.
The fifth exercise is called “emptying the can.” It starts with you in the standing position. Put your right arm halfway between the front and the side of your body, thumb down. Raise your right arm until almost level (about a 45 degree angle). Don't lift beyond the point of pain. Now get ready to “empty the can”. Slowly lower your arm. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then repeat the whole exercise again with your other arm.
Do all five exercises three to five times a week. Your rotator cuff muscles will become stronger and more flexible. You'll begin to regain the strength in your shoulder. Each time you finish doing all the exercises, put an ice pack on your shoulder for 20 minutes. It's best to use a plastic bag with ice cubes in it or even try a bag of frozen peas.
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