By Matthew Marucci, PT, MSPT, OCS, CSCS
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles whose primary function is to stabilize the shoulder. Given the amount of mobility our shoulders afford us (painting a ceiling, scratching our back) stabilization is no small task. The shoulder’s stability also depends on the strength of muscles attached to our shoulder blades. For more literature on avoiding cuff injuries and videos of the exercises listed below, please visit New Castle Physical Therapy’s Facebook page.
Reach smartly. There are obvious limits to this concept, but just as you can lift with your knees to protect your back, you can alter the way you reach to protect your shoulders. Two simple modifications are reaching with your thumb facing up and getting as close to the target object as possible.
Keeping your thumb up when reaching makes it less likely your rotator cuff will impinge on the top of your shoulder blade. Moving closer to the target object or using a step stool can result in significantly less motion required from your shoulder.
Take breaks. No one enjoys washing windows or painting ceilings, so most of us try to work quickly. For repetitive tasks, minimize risk by making the movement as low stress as possible. Take breaks. Even well designed movements can fatigue your cuff over time and place it at risk for injury.
Know your body. Most people would stop a particular activity if they felt discomfort in their shoulder, but many are unaware that a large number of cuff injuries cause pain lower down the arm. Pain halfway down the outside of your arm can be a hallmark sign of a cuff injury, even in the absence of any additional shoulder pain. Perform each exercise here three times per week; three sets of 12 repetitions.
Scapular Retraction: Using a resistance band, gently squeeze your shoulder blades together, taking care not to shrug.
Using a light weight (2-3 lbs), lift your arms (with your thumbs up as if the weights are ice cream cones) to the height of your shoulders.
Side Lying External Rotation: Lie on your side with a small folded towel between your shoulder and side. With your elbow bent to 90 degrees lift the weight (2-3 lbs) from your stomach until your forearm is parallel to the ground.
Matthew Marucci, PT, MSPT, OCS, CSCS, a partner at New Castle Physical Therapy & Personal Training, is also Chair of the Hudson Valley District New York Physical Therapists Association. Visit www.newcastlept.net or call 914-488-5440