Whether you are trying to recover from a rotator cuff injury, recuperate from surgery, or prevent yourself from requiring surgery to begin with, the program will be fairly similar. Ultimately, the goal is to strengthen and/or recuperate the connective tendons in the shoulder termed the “rotator cuff.” The reason rotator cuff injuries are the most common form of shoulder injury is because they compose four tendons that support the shoulder joint. Since the shoulder is the joint of the body that has the most mobility (virtually 360 degrees of movement), this also leaves it being highly susceptible to injury.
Ok, so the damage is done and you now have to go through rehabilitation, or maybe you have had minor issues in the past and want to keep them from coming back. While working with a professional will be far more comprehensive, here are a few things that you can do on your own to work on those muscles:
The RICE Method – if your injury is recent, RICE is a great method to start the recovery process. Even if you are planning on rehabilitation, it can get you kick started prior to working with the professional, so they can take you to the next step when meeting with them.
What RICE stands for is: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This method is highly effective for reducing both the pain and swelling associated with a rotator cuff injury. Typically, you would want to place ice on the shoulders for 15-20 minutes at a time, followed by 15-20 minutes off. If you can apply pressure (compression) with the ice pack, even better. The elevation should be done as often as long as possible, so long as it isn’t affecting your circulation to a significant extent (if your fingers get tingly, give the elevation a rest). When it comes to rest, this should be paramount at this point. In order to recover, the shoulder needs rest. Use the shoulder as little as possible for at least 48 to 72 hours after an injury and only ease your way into things that do not cause pain or discomfort in the shoulders after that. If it hurts, more likely than not, you are either making the injury worse, or at the bare minimum, preventing it from recovering.
When the shoulder gets to the point where the pain and swelling has subsided and moving your shoulder no longer hurts, you can move on to the next steps below. Just be sure to ease into things slowly and if you begin to feel discomfort, take a step back and repeat the RICE method.
Shoulder Stretching – To prevent a loss of a range of motion, after following the RICE protocol, the next step is to ensure you stretch out the shoulder. This prevents a debilitating condition known as “frozen shoulder” and gets your shoulders on the path to recovery faster.
The simplest stretch you can do for the shoulder is a basic “doorway stretch.” To do this, you simply stand in an open doorway and spread your arms out to your sides. You grab the sides of the doorway with each hand and lean forward into the doorway until you feel a slight stretch in the shoulders. You can vary this exercise by lifting the shoulders up higher or lower, keeping them at or below the height of the shoulders.
Shoulder Exercises – After you have done RICE and can stretch the shoulders through a variety of heights in a doorway, it is time to move on to shoulder exercises. You can find plenty of exercises on the web, including this online PDF found here: http://orthoinfo.org/PDFs/Rehab_Shoulder_5.pdf. Just keep in mind that you should always consult a healthcare professional prior to pursuing these types of exercises to ensure you are not doing any that may be inappropriate for your particular injury. However, so long as you get the green light from your healthcare provider, these steps are a great way to get your shoulders back to normal.