Rotator Cuff Exercises After a Rotator Cuff Injury
A Rotator Cuff Tale
More than 25 years ago I started to weight train as a way to relief the tension I was feeling during my colleague years. The whole exercise regime became a passion, a way of life that still keeps me healthy and strong. However, not everything was great at the beginning. Like any other discipline, it takes a lot of trial and error understanding the way your own personal body works. Not to say the amount of knowledge you need to acquire to properly train yourself in a cost-effective way.
One day, during my first year of training, I was performing an incline bench press on a very rudimentary set of my colleague gym. Young and ignorant, I was trying to beat my physical limitations incrementing the weights as I continue the sets. During the last repetition of the last set, I missed the bar holder. Immediately, my rotator cuff started to emit a pop sound. Simultaneously, I started to scream and somebody went running to pick-up the weights. By the time the guy came it was already too late. I severely injured my rotator cuff!
A couple of days later I went to an orthopedic doctor. We sat down with an MRI of my left shoulder. The doctor looked at me and told me my training days were over for life! I didn’t know what to think but I remember feeling horrible and very sad. I left the office in tears and after a week or two I decided to find a way to recover my rotator cuff from the injury. I basically learned everything about it: its anatomy, functionality and to put it into simple words: “systems”. In fact, the rotator cuff is a system of muscles and tendons whose main purpose is to stabilize and support the shoulder. I learned that my muscles survived the accident but my posterior tendons where the ones that actually suffered.
The Solution Arrived
The pain was strong and it lasted for a long time. I was getting desperate and for a moment I though my rotator cuff was going to be injured forever. I did all kinds of things but nothing was significantly working. One day I was talking to a friend that told me to go out to eat with his uncle. It turns out that the uncle was also an orthopedic doctor. While discussing my case, he right away told me that I could heal myself. He didn’t know exactly the severity of my rotator cuff injury. However, he evaluated me based on my pain reaction to simple stimuli. He explained to me that the inflammation seemed strong but if I would introduce rotator cuff exercises I would gradually developed tissue on the affected are similar to scar tissue you find on the skin after a surface injury.
After three months of heat-cold therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs, I was still feeling pain. However, I was getting better and decided to follow the doctor’s advice. I began an intensive 20 minutes a day home regime of rotator cuff exercises that after two months healed my rotator cuff injury and put me back in the gym. For those reading this article and suffering from the same injury, here is the routine. I don’t know the exact names so I will just describe them:
- Door walking rises: place yourself in front of a door and with two fingers start to perform a finger walk movement starting from your leg height to the highest possible point. Do 4 sets of 15 repetitions.
- Pulley side rises: get a pulley and attach it to a small weight you can handle without pain. Rise it from the side as higher as you can. Also 4 sets of 15 repetitions.
- Arm to the back: lay down on your side, grab a small weight you can handle without pain and starting from you abdominal region rise your arm to the side to until you barely reach the shoulder axis limit and pain arises. Do 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions.
- Light shoulder routine (2 months after): after this initial rotator cuff exercises routine, you can return to the gym and start a regular workout. No more than two times a week (for the shoulder and/or shoulder related exercises). Now, grab small weights and do a simple anterior, superior and posterior shoulder workout to strength the whole rotator cuff system of muscles and tendons. You can find a lot of information online about routines and variations. The most important thing is to keep it light and increase the intensity always considering the pain. Never force yourself or you can move backwards in your process instead of recovering.
After three to six months, you will improve your strength and the shoulder will be able to handle heavier loads. The rotator cuff will be stronger and you will regain lifting power. However, always remember to listen to your body, the pain and stop if you feel you are not doing the correct thing.
Rotator cuff injuries are more normal than they seem and, contrary to what the first doctor said, you can recover from them. At our practice, Doctor Mead is always attending athletes and fixing shoulders. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need help.
Orthopedic Corner | Leon Mead MD Orthopedic Doctor | 730 Goodlette Road North, Suite 201 Naples Florida 34102 | Phone: (239) 262-1119