How are strengthening exercises used in the recovery phase of rotator cuff treatment?

Updated: Oct 25, 2018
  • Author: Gerard A Malanga, MD; Chief Editor: Craig C Young, MD  more...
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Perform strengthening in a pain-free range only. Begin with the ST stabilizers. The scapular stabilizers include the rhomboids, levator scapulae, trapezius, and serratus anterior. Shoulder shrugs, rowing, and push-ups isolate these muscles and help return smooth motion, allowing normal rhythm between the scapula and GH joint. Then, turn attention toward strengthening the rotator cuff muscles. Position the arm at 45° and 90° of abduction for exercises to prevent the wringing out phenomenon, in which hyperadduction can be caused, stressing the tenuous blood supply to the tendon of the exercising muscle. Avoid the thumbs-down position with the arm in greater than 90° of abduction and internal rotation to minimize subacromial impingement.

Many ways to strengthen muscles are available. The rehabilitation program usually starts with isometric and co-contractions, progresses to concentric contractions, and finally incorporates eccentric contractions as part of the preparation for return to sports. Using the baseball thrower example, the most important muscle conditioning is that of eccentric control. Eccentric forces are the most damaging to muscles, and if the patient is not fully rehabilitated and conditioned, injury occurs or reoccurs.

Additional strengthening techniques that can be used are progressive resistive exercises (PREs), Thera-Band (Hygienic Corporation; Akron, Ohio), and plyometrics. Use of isokinetic exercises has been debated because they are not performed in a functional manner. Probably the best use for isokinetic exercise machines is for objective side-to-side comparison of strength and progress made in strength rehabilitation. Incorporate endurance training into the program as it advances. When strength is restored, continue a maintenance program for fitness and prevention of reinjury.

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