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Shoulder Strengthening Exercises for After a Rotator Cuff Repair

This protocol provides general guidelines for the rehabilitation of the rotator cuff. Specific changes in the program will be made by the physician as appropriate for an individual patient. If you have any questions regarding the progress, the physician should be contacted. For more information about shoulder procedures, schedule an appointment with Dr. Fuchs. 

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General Guidelines:

  1. There should be minimal to no pain when performing exercises. Fatigue is OK. 
  2. Perform exercises slowly.
  3. Maintain the correct position.
  4. Warm up prior to using weights – stretching and pendulum exercises as instructed.
  5. Ice after exercise for 20 minutes.
  6. Exercise 4 days per week.
  7. Call your physician if patient if not responding to treatment.

Perform exercises slowly with control up and down. Do not allow your shoulder to shrug. Begin without weight. Progress as tolerated to:

  • 2 oz. (butter knife)
  • 4 oz. (tuna can)
  • 8 oz. (soup can)
  • 1lb. weight
  • 2 lb. weight

Perform 20-30 repetitions.

If you are unable to perform some exercises against gravity, then you may begin them in a laying down (supine) position.

Isometrics should be performed to within 5 degrees of any painful area if isotonics are not tolerated.

For a full download of the exercises, with images, click here.

Wand Exercises

  1. Pendulum: Bend over, supporting yourself with your good arm resting on a counter top. Allow your sore arm to relax and hang straight down. Swing the relaxed arm from side to side. Then do the same for each of three other motions: front to back, clockwise in circles and counterclockwise. This exercise helps to lubricate the joint and improve circulation. Repeat 20 times in each direction
  2. Pulleys: using your good arm to move your sore one. Sit in a chair with your back to the pulleys. Grasp one handle in each hand. Keep your sore arm relaxed. Use your good arm to pull down on the rope and let your sore arm be pulled forward and upward. Then, use the pulleys to raise the sore arm sideways and upward. Repeat 10 times in each direction
  3. Flexion with wand, supine: This exercise is an alternative to doing flexion in the standing position. Lie on your back. Hold the wand near the middle with both hands, resting it on your stomach. Keep your sore arm relaxed as you use your good arm to slowly raise the wand upward and overhead. Hold the overhead position for 10 seconds and slowly return to the start position.
  4. Flexion with wand, standing: Stand and hold the wand vertical, with the hand of your sore arm at the top end and use your good arm to push the sore arm upward and overhead. Hold the overhead position for 10 seconds and slowly lower back down. If this exercise is too difficult, try doing it in the supine position (number 3).
  5. Extension with wand: Keep elbow straight. Slowly push affected arm back for 10 seconds, then slowly lower the wand back to the rest position
  6. Abduction with wand: Stand and hold the wand in front of you, one hand on each end. Keeping the elbows straight, use your good arm to push the sore arm out sideways. Hold the abducted position for 10 seconds and slowly return to the start position. Do the exercise again, but holding the wand with the thumb of the sore arm pointing away (palm up).
  7. Internal rotation wand: Stand and hold the wand behind you, both hands close to the middle of the wand. Use your good arm to lift the sore arm upwards, along your backbone. Hold the elevated position for 10 seconds and slowly return to the start position.
  8. External rotation wand, arm at side: Lie on your back, holding the wand at each end. Put a small rolled-up towel at your side and place the elbow of your sore arm on the towel. Bend that  elbow so that the forearm points toward the ceiling. Use your good arm to push the hand of the sore arm sideways and toward the floor. Hold the rotated position for 10 seconds and slowly return to the start position.
  9. External rotation with wand, arm abducted: Lie on your back, holding the wand at each end. Move the upper part of your sore arm so that it points sideways away from you. Put a small  rolled-up towel under that elbow. Bend that elbow so that the forearm points toward the ceiling. Use your good arm and the wand to push the hand of the sore arm away from your feet and toward the floor. Hold the rotated position for 10 seconds and slowly return to the start position.

Shoulder Isometrics

  1. Isometric flexion: Stand close to a wall, facing it. Keep the elbow straight, and place the hand of your sore arm placed against the wall. Press your hand forward into the wall, keeping the shoulder blades down and together. Press 5 seconds, relax 10 seconds.
  2. Isometric extension: Stand with your back against a wall. Keep the elbow straight, and place the hand of your sore arm against the wall. Press the hand backwards into the wall, keeping the shoulder blades down and together. Press 5 seconds, relax 10 seconds.
  3. Isometric abduction: Stand sideways to a wall, with your sore shoulder close to the wall. Place the back of the hand against the wall and press, keeping the shoulder blades down and together. Press 5 seconds, relax 10 seconds.
  4. Isometric adduction: Stand with a small towel roll held between the elbow and the side of your body. Squeeze the towel roll against the body, keeping the shoulder blades down and together. Press 5 seconds, relax 10 seconds.
  5. Isometric Internal Rotation: Stand in a doorway, facing the frame. Keep the elbow at your side and place the palm of the hand on the door frame. Press the palm of the hand against the door frame, keeping the elbow at the side and the shoulder blades down and close together. Press 5 seconds, relax 10 seconds.
  6. Isometric External Rotation: Stand sideways near a wall, with the sore shoulder closest to the wall. Keep your elbow at your side, but bend it so that your hand is pointing forward. Put the back of the hand against the wall and press outward. Press 5 seconds, relax 10 seconds.

Scapular Stabilization Exercises

  1. Scapular Retraction: Pull your shoulder blades downward and together.
  2. Stabilizing Extension: Lean over a countertop with your good arm resting on the surface. Let your sore arm hang straight down (your therapist may suggest that you hold a small weight during this exercise). Raise your arm backward toward the ceiling, keeping the elbow straight, then come slowly back to the rest position. 
  3. Scapular Depression: Place a length of exercise tubing (such as Thera-Band ) over a door (your therapist will tell you which color of elastic to use). Grasp one end in each hand at about shoulder height. Keep your shoulder blades down and together as you pull your hands to your side. Keep your elbows straight and do not shrug the shoulders. Hold 5 seconds, relax 10 seconds. 
  4. Stabilizing Abduction: Lean over a countertop as in the previous exercise. Raise your arm sideways toward the ceiling and slowly return.
  5. Proprioception, Leaning: Place both hands on a counter top and move your feet backwards so that you lean against the counter. Slowly shift your leaning from one hand to the other. Keep your back straight and don’t rotate your body as you shift. 
  6. Push-ups: Lean against a wall with your arms at shoulder height. Keep your torso straight. Slowly bend at the elbow and allow your chin to touch the wall. Push back to the original position. Your therapist will advise you when it is safe to do push-ups against a counter top or on the floor.
  7. Proprioception with ball: Use both hands to hold a large ball against a wall, leaning against it slightly. Keep your shoulder blades down and together. Roll the ball in a circle, clockwise. Then repeat the exercise counter-clockwise. Progress to doing this with one hand on the ball and pushing against the ball as firmly as possible. Advance the ball’s position as far overhead as you can.
  8. Proprioception on floor: Your therapist will provide a proprioception platform. Kneel on the floor and lean your hands on the platform. Keep the shoulder blades down and together. Slowly roll the platform in a clockwise direction, then repeat the exercise counter-clockwise. As your strength improves, place the platform further in front of you. 

Isotonic Exercises

  1. Flexion: Stand with your arm at your side, thumb pointing forward. Keep your elbow straight and slowly raise the arm forward to about shoulder level, then slowly return to the rest position.
  2. Abduction: Stand with your arm at your side, thumb pointing outward. Keep your elbow straight and slowly raise the arm sideways to about shoulder level, then slowly return to the rest position. 
  3. Supraspinatus Abduction: This exercise is designed to strengthen a particular shoulder muscle, the supraspinatus muscle. Put your hand at your side, point your thumb downward, and keep the elbow straight. Keep the thumb pointing downward as you raise your arm in a direction mid-way between forward and sideways. You will not be able to raise your arm all the way to shoulder level – half-way is okay. Return slowly to the original position.
  4. External rotation sidelying: Lie on your side, with your sore arm on top. Bend the elbow of your sore arm at 90 degrees, and put a small towel roll under that elbow. Keep your shoulder
    blades down and together. Raise your hand without raising the elbow, then slowly return to the rest position.
  5. External rotation, prone: Lie on your stomach on a table or bed, near the edge, with the elbow of your sore arm pointing straight out from your shoulder, and the forearm hanging over the edge of the table. Keep the elbow bent at 90 degrees and keep your shoulder blades down and together. Lift your hand slowly upward without lifting the elbow, then slowly return to the rest position.
  6. Internal rotation: Tie a piece of exercise tubing (such as Thera-Band ) to the knob of a closed door. Stand sideways to the door, with your sore side closer to the door and your good side away from it. Grasp the end of the tubing with the hand of your sore arm, and bend the elbow at 90 degrees. Use the elbow to hold a small towel roll against your side. Pull on the tubing, rotating your forearm across your body, then slowly return.
  7. Push-ups: Push-ups against a wall were part of the stabilization exercises. Push-ups against a counter, or a chair, or on the floor can be done for strengthening. Your therapist will guide you how to progress to greater strengthening.
  8. Biceps curls: Sit or stand with your arm at your side, palm facing forward. Raise your hand by bending at the elbow only, then slowly return.