How to Not Tear Your Rotator Cuff

rotator cuffNothing feels better than the muscles after a good strengthening workout. Feeling the burn is a sign of accomplishment. You know your muscles will be better for it.

The feeling of body injury is different. The pain is often sharp and long lasting. This pain lets you know something is wrong.

If you ever injure your rotator cuff, you’ll know the difference. The pain or lack of strength will tell you that this isn’t a good thing.

However, this article is all about how to avoid that pain. Just like with any other workout injury, there are plenty of things you can do to keep your shoulders healthy.

What Is The Rotator Cuff?

The shoulder is a complicated piece of machinery. Several bones, muscles, and tendons come together to allow your arms to rotate with a lot of freedom.

The rotator cuff is a collection of muscles and tendons in the shoulder that pulls double duty. It protects the joint where the arm and shoulder connect and plays a roll in raising and lowering the arm.

Any upper arm movement usually involves the rotator cuff somehow, especially during shoulder strengthening workouts.

The cuff is at work in many upper body exercises and stretches. If you aren’t careful, it can be easy to overextend or rotate the muscles and tendons to the point of injury.

Rotator Injury

If you’ve ever experienced a rotator injury, you know how severe it can be.

A typical rotator cuff injury is due to a tear somewhere in the muscles and tendons that make up the cuff. This tear can come from the overextension or rotation of the arm.

Since the rotator is made up of four muscles, there are several areas that a tear can occur.

If an injury does occur, treatment and recovery can be a long road. Therefore, it’s best to avoid it altogether.


If the unfortunate occurs, this type of injury will let you know.

Some rotator injuries result in a sharp, instant pain somewhere in the shoulder. This pain will usually occur during a strenuous workout, intense exercise, or otherwise intense physical activity like moving objects.

You may also notice a slight weakness in your shoulder or an inability to lift objects like normal. Finally, you may hear the sound of pops and clicks as you move your arm.

In order to diagnose this kind of injury, most doctors will start with a physical examination. The doctor will check the arm’s range of motion and physical strength.

If something out of the ordinary appears, the doctor may also recommend an MRI, x-ray, or ultrasound to confirm the injury.


There are a variety of treatment options, most of which involve a long recovery.

Most doctors will recommend a specifically designed regime of physical therapy to increase the strength of the affected muscles and tendons. Medications like anti-inflammatory drugs may also be prescribed to help with pain management.

If physical therapy doesn’t work, surgery may be a last resort. A surgeon will be able to reconnect any tears in the muscles or tendons.

Tips For Preventing Rotator Injuries

Obviously, the best treatment for an injury like this is to prevent it in the first place. Thankfully, there are a number of different options you can incorporate during your regular workouts.

The best way to prevent this injury is through the targeted stretching and strengthening of the muscles and tendons.


If you know your daily exercise is going to include a lot of upper body, particularly arm exercises, it’s best to do a short stretch or warm-up with the arms before hand. The arm and shoulder muscles can quickly become inflamed and susceptible to injury if they aren’t prepared for the physical activity.


Light stretches are an excellent way to gradually extend the limits of the muscles and tendons in the rotator cuff. Plus, you can also extend the range of motion of your arms.

Effective prevention stretches should specifically target the arm and shoulder areas. You can try simple stretches like raising your arms above your head or pretending to hug a large object like a tree.

A doorway stretch is great for stretching both arms at the same time. Firmly grab the sides of a doorway, then walk forward. As you move, your shoulders will begin to stretch.

Strength Exercises

Dumbbells or exercise bands are effective to strengthen the rotator muscles and tendons without risking injury. These tools are easy to use anywhere in the gym or at home.

An effective exercise using bands is the lawnmower. Hold one end of the band in your hand and the other under your foot. Then, gently begin to pull up as if you are trying to start a lawnmower.

High to low rows are good for working out the tendons and muscles involved with shoulder rotation. Attach the band to a high point like the top of a door. Then, begin rowing inward at an angle, up to down.

If you have some light dumbbells handy, you can try some simple rotation exercises.

Lay on your side and hold the dumbbell in the hand away from the floor. Starting with the dumbbell at your chest, gently lift up until your arm is parallel to the floor. Switch sides to work both arms.

You can also work the opposite arm in this same position. Start with the dumbbell resting in your hand on the floor, then lift up toward your chest. Once again, switch sides for the other arm.

Keep in mind, these strength exercises should be less strenuous than normal arm and leg lifts.

Playing It Smart

You don’t have to change your exercise routine to prevent rotator injury. Take things slow and smart. Never drastically push beyond your limits.

Most importantly, if you begin to notice an unfamiliar, unnatural pain in your shoulders, stop the workout. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

For other tips to prevent and treat injuries, or for some great equipment reviews, check out the rest of the blog.