Your Guide to Calming Down Rotator Cuff Pain

Rotator cuff pain can be incredibly frustrating. With any body part, you typically don’t realize how much you use it until you injure it. When you get discomfort every time you move the injured part, it becomes painfully obvious how frequently you use it. The rotator cuff is no exception.

To help you get rid of rotator cuff discomfort, we’re going to break down a couple things. First, we’re going to explain what motions typically hurt when the rotator cuff is injured. Second, we’re going to go over exercises that help resolve rotator cuff pain. Lastly, we’re going to go over what you should do if the exercises aren’t helping.


Where Rotator Cuff Discomfort Comes From

The rotator cuff is made up of four (although some argue five) muscles that do three different actions. When the rotator cuff is injured, those motions are the first to become painful. These motions are

  • Lifting your arm overhead
  • Rotating your arm away from your body (reaching for something in the backseat, putting your arm in your jacket, etc.)
  • Rotating your arm towards your body (reaching behind your back, pulling a car door closed, etc.)

We most commonly see rotator cuff injuries where the first two motions painful. Although depending on how the injury developed, the third can be painful as well; it just isn’t as common.


Exercises to Resolve Rotator Cuff Pain

Before we discuss the exercises to resolve an angry rotator cuff, we should talk about why these exercises are beneficial. Rotator cuff discomfort can develop for many reasons, but the most common reason it develops is that the rotator cuff simply isn’t strong enough to tolerate the loads that are being placed on it. As a result, we focus on strengthening the rotator cuff to make the pain go away.

In the early stages of resolving rotator cuff pain, the degree to which we want to pursue strengthening is often limited by pain, not strength. There is a sweet spot when doing corrective exercises. Ideally you want to stay at or below moderate discomfort during, immediately after, and for a full 24 hours after completing the exercise. If discomfort peaks above this, you’re doing more harm than good and making it take longer to heal. We have a different blog post dedicated entirely to “how much is too much” which you can read here.

So, when choosing the load to complete for an exercise, choose the load based on discomfort levels first. If discomfort is moderate or less, you can increase the load. Typically the more you load a structure, the quicker it gets better as long as you stay at or below moderate discomfort.


Rotator Cuff Pain with Lifting Overhead

Rotator Cuff Pain with Rotating Away from Your Body

Rotator Cuff Pain with Rotating Towards Your Body

What if the Exercises Aren’t Helping?

There’s a very simple answer to this. Get help from someone who knows how to rehabilitate the rotator cuff. Sometimes injuries are straightforward and resolve quickly. Other times things need to be fine-tuned along the way and hands-on work is necessary to give things a jumpstart. If you’ve tried the above exercises for four weeks (and did them consistently – at least 3x/week) with minimal to no improvement, then it’s time to get some help.


In A Nutshell

The rotator cuff is mainly involved with moving the shoulder in rotational movements and lifting your arm above your head. When it starts to become painful, it’s typically because the muscles that do those motions are not strong enough. Your best bet is to start with strengthening them and then to get help if that is not working.


Other Tidbits of Advice

If your rotator cuff pain is very severe and you aren’t sure if you should get surgery or not, check out this blog article. On the flip side, if you are an athlete and you want to keep your rotator cuff as robust as possible, give this a read. Lastly, if you’ve been struggling with rotator cuff pain for some time and just want answers, click the button below to get scheduled. We specialize in treating the rotator cuff and regularly see people that have minor rotator cuff irritation all the way to complete rotator cuff tears.

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