Rotator cuff tears are often painful and are a cause of weakness in your shoulder. But there are many degrees of rotator cuff tears and many don’t require surgery to feel better. With a good balance of strength and stability around your shoulder, it’s possible to have a full recovery.


The rotator cuff muscles have a specific job; to rotate and stabilize your shoulder. A weakness in a certain isolated movement could indicate some degree of damage. Treatment includes gentle stretching, and gradual pain free strengthening. If there is to be a successful recovery that doesn’t require surgery (as is often the case!), the correct exercises would lead you towards pain reduction and improved mobility, and a gradual improvement in strength within a few days. Check out how to get started below. (P.S. If you’re in a high risk category for sustaining a torn muscle, these exercises are a great way to PREVENT an injury, too!)


Video Transcript: Rotator Cuff Tear

There are many degrees of rotator cuff tears. There are tears that just split the muscle belly open along the grain of the fibers, there are partial-thickness tears, there are insertional tears, there are full-thickness tears but that doesn’t tear through the full width of the muscle. It’s likely that the only time you need surgery is if the muscle is torn all the way through and pulling away from each other- or, well, if you’re a professional baseball pitcher perhaps. But my point is, I’ve seen many patients that have come to me with a ‘tear” on their MRI, AND a prescription from the orthopedic specialist saying “go give therapy a try first”… and I’ve seen these patients get well. With a good balance of strength and stability around your shoulder, it IS possible to have a full recovery from a rotator cuff tear. And I’m here today to help point you in that direction. My name is Josie, I’m a licensed physical therapist, and if there is just one exercise that I could give my patients that are suffering from a rotator cuff tear, I would teach them the scapular retraction strengthening exercise. You see, the rotator cuff muscles have the job of rotating your shoulder, and they are responsible for stabilizing your shoulder if your other bigger muscles are doing something challenging. While the rotator cuff strain is trying to heal, lets give it a break by calling on the bigger, stronger, and not so injured scapular muscles back between your shoulder blades to help out. An isometric strengthening exercise should do the trick to get them firing and wake them up to really perform and do their job, which is ALSO stabilizing the shoulder, and help out those recovering rotator cuff muscles.

You can be sitting or standing to do this exercise, just don’t lean against anything. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, back and down, as though you are trying to pinch and hold an orange between the bottom part of them. Hold it 10 seconds. Relax. Repeat. Do this about 5 times, 5 times/day. Get in the habit of using these muscles whenever you have to do any reaching or lifting activities so that the rotator cuff muscle doesn’t get overstrained and aggravated beyond what it is already trying to recover from.

This should get you started in the right direction, but please check out my full-length PT session to get all the rest of the details that will troubleshoot your symptoms and take you to a full recovery. I’ve also got an exercise checklist for you and illustrations so you can work on the exercises easily throughout the day. I hope you’ve been encouraged, and that you’ll be feeling better soon.