Rotator Cuff Strain

Focus on high repetition of sport-specific exercises

Shoulder x-ray     Photo: kaolin fire/flickr

The injury:
Throwing fastballs isn’t the only way to aggravate the four little muscles that hold your shoulder in its socket. “Swimming, too many pull-ups, tennis, gardening, digging, and heavy labor can all cause a strain,” says Dr. Alvin Loosli, a former physician for the U.S. Olympic swim team. He estimates that every year, five to ten percent of people who swim regularly suffer a shoulder injury.

The potential for rotator cuff damage rises with age as the shoulder’s tendons degenerate. If that’s not enough of a reason to focus on prevention, the estimated average cost to surgically repair a torn rotator cuff is $13,000.

How to prevent it:
Strength training is key, but it’s important to make it sport specific. “The typical progression of doing three sets of 10 reps of one exercise with a very heavy weight may be great for manual labor, but it doesn’t help a swimmer,” Loosli says. Instead, focus on a strengthening regimen with a higher amount of repetitions (three sets of 20 or 30 reps) using light weights or exercise bands. While training, if something starts to hurt, stop the aggravating activity immediately. If the pain persists, see a doctor.

4 Rotator Cuff Exercises to Try
These four exercises can be performed with an exercise band, as shown, or you can start without added resistance and use an exercise band as you get stronger.


1. The Low Five
With your elbow by your side, hold your hand up to form a 90-degree angle between your forearm and your bicep. Keeping your elbow by your side, move the hand away from your body as far as possible, then return to neutral. Repeat 20 times, then do the same thing on the other side.

2. The Question
Hold your arm out to the side so your bicep forms a 90-degree angle with your tosro and with your forearm. Rotate your hand up, as if to ask a question, then back down parallel to the ground. Repeat 20 times, then do the same thing on the other side.

3. The Taxi Hail
Keeping your right arm relatively straight, touch your right hand to your left hip, then up to your side as if asking a question or flagging down a taxi. Repeat 20 times, then do the same thing on the other side.

4. The Clock
Hold your arm straight out to your side, then rotate it so it’s pointing between 1 and 2 o’clock (noon is straight forward). Keeping your thumb pointing down, drop your arm toward your hip, then bring it back up to starting position. Repeat 20 times, then do the same thing on the other side.

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