Injuries are sadly quite often just a part of life. When you're training, even more so. They happen everywhere from your muscles to your joints, but up there with the worst of them is an injury to your rotator cuff. It's a crucial part of your shoulder, and when you damage it through exercise, you have a serious problem.

It's one of the most common injuries from training, and on top of that, it can take you out of your game for months on end, and depending on how bad the damage is, it can take even longer to get back to where you were. Your progress takes a big hit, and it is incredibly debilitating and painful. It's pretty much one side of your body working at less than 50%.

What it is

A rotator cuff injury is essentially damage to the ligaments and tendons that work together at the socket of your shoulder to allow you to move. It's permanently in motion to move your whole arm, and it's pretty tough. When you're adding things like weight training into the mix though, that's where rotator cuff injuries thrive.

Damage occurs in the ligaments or the joint itself, and it feels like serious pain right in the centre of your shoulder. You'll know about it for sure.

How it can happen

person preparing to perform a lift

The biggest reason for this? Your technique. How you're doing an exercise is usually the reason that you're suffering from a rotator cuff injury. Short or long term. Using heavy weights, for example, is one of the biggest causes to lose your form. You use other muscles without even knowing to stabilise yourself and complete the exercise. When that happens, it's often areas like your rotator cuffs that deal with the damage!

Even if you aren't using a weight that's too heavy, there's another huge factor also. The type of exercise you do. There are a few exercises out there that are infamously bad for you if you don't do your homework.

Behind the neck

First and foremost, by far, are behind the neck exercisesTake things like the behind the neck shoulder press, for example. It's one of the worst ways to shoulder press, and it's a rotator cuff injury waiting to happen.   It doesn’t even matter what the exercise is most of the time. If you’re putting weight behind your head and moving your arms, you’re going to be putting yourself at risk.

It massively limits your motion range and puts you at a huge risk of doing damage on the spot. Your shoulders just aren't meant to do that kind of movement, and it's one of the fastest ways to put severe long-term damage into your life, if not just your training.

Dips

Tricep dips, believe it or not, are actually another rapid and common way for you to injure your rotator cuffs. As you lower yourself down to the floor, you can easily let yourself go too far in order to try and get a better contraction.

It’s something all of us have probably done at some point in life, but you need to cut it out. If your elbows are higher than your shoulders, then stop. They should be in line at most. Don’t risk it and make sure you get into the habit.

Treating Rotator Cuff Injuries

How do you deal with the injury when it happens? Well, you manage a rotator cuff injury like every other injury. Rest, recovery and training. The difference? The time it takes for you to heal. A rotator cuff injury can set you out of your game for a seriously long time. Full recovery often takes around nine months.

When you are treating it, though, there are options. Stretches are an excellent way to go. Things like the door stretch, rows and even swimming are good ways to get your function back up in the long term. Short-term, it's more about the typical RICE treatment, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation.

How to prevent them

person stretching their shoulder

The last thing that you need to know about is how to avoid rotator cuff injuries. The points above should give you all the information you need, but to summarise:

  • Don't lift too heavy;
  • Don't do dangerous exercises;
  • Make sure your technique is right;
  • Stretch, rest and recovery regularly.

Deltoid Exercises generally

This may seem a little too obvious but think about it. Doing exercises that are specifically going to helping you to bulk up any section for your deltoid muscles is likely going to be strengthening your rotator cuffs, as long as you’re doing them right.

Make sure that your form is absolutely perfect and that whatever weight or equipment you decide to use is perfectly suited to your needs. Once you're correctly set up, your rotator cuffs are going to be used in the right way, and as your exercises get harder and more frequent, this is where they're going to see an increase in strength.

Doorway stretches

Woman performing a wall pec fly

Finishing up looking at how best to keep yourself in good shape, stretching the right areas is always an absolute must. You can’t be doing any exercise without stretching before and after without putting yourself at risk to injury at some point along the way, and your rotator cuffs are no different. It may not be easy to realise what stretches might be the best for doing this, but with a little leg work, or this article, you can get a good start.

Anything that is allowing you to keep your elbows the same distance from you while still moving is a good way to think of it. Doorway flyes as a stretch are the best way to do this, just make sure that you do it slowly and safely and that you aren't overdoing it!

 

That's about all there is to it. If you start to feel any discomfort in your shoulders when exercising, then stop! Seek medical advice if you feel you need it. It's always better to be safe than sorry after all.

For more info, check out this useful article from BUPA!

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Before beginning any exercise or nutrition program, consult your physician, doctor or other professional. This is especially important for individuals over the age of 35 or persons with pre-existing health problems. Exercise.co.uk assumes no responsibility for personal injury or property damage sustained using our advice.

If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.