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Training the rotator cuffs for injury prevention

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and help to stabilise it. When these muscles are injured from repetitive activities such as tennis, pitching in baseball, bowling in cricket, or swimming, pain and loss of function are the result. Continuing to use the shoulder despite pain and soreness can inflame the tendons and cause them to break away from the surrounding tissue. Exercises to strengthen the muscles will help prevent injury and improve your performance.

Before beginning any of these exercises, it is important to see your doctor or physiotherapist. Better still, let your physiotherapist guide you in performing them before doing them on your own. Other points to consider are:

  • Use light weights. The rotator cuff muscles are relatively small, therefore using too heavy a weight can do some damage. For women, a 1 to 2.5 kilo weight is sufficient, while men may use up to 5 kilos.
  • Keep the movement slow and controlled. Do not jerk and avoid flicking the wrist to add range; keep the wrist neutral.
  • Be careful to train in the pain-free range and stop if you feel pain.
  • Resistance bands or exercise tubing may be used but the end range will be far more overloaded than the beginning, therefore free weights are preferable.
  • If one arm is weaker than the other, exercise the weaker one first and do the same number of repetitions on the strong arm as you were able to complete properly on the weaker.
  • If you find yourself shifting your body to accommodate the weight, decrease it to allow you to perform the movement properly.
  • Perform a balanced routine of pulling and pushing movements for the large muscles of the chest, shoulders and back.
  • Stretching those muscles should follow strengthening. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds without pain.

If any of the stretching or strengthening exercises cause pain or soreness, decrease the weight to one that is comfortable or perform the movements without weights until the soreness disappears. You may limit the range to what you can perform without discomfort, or have someone check your form to see if you are performing the exercises properly. If after 2-3 weeks your problems persist, see your physiotherapist again.


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