Preventing Rotator Cuff Injury

rotator cuff exerciseHow do you adapt your game and off-court activities to prevent getting the debilitating rotator cuff injury?

Sal writes: “now you have to address rotator cuff tears and how to serve without getting surgery…… I’ve had cortisone and pt…..any other solutions what have other guys done?

While I have suffered from bicep tendonitis (Thanks to Luxilon Big Banger strings both ways several years back), I seem to be OK on the rotator cuff. Either I am lucky or my three-times a week exercise have helped.

I use a stretch band in the door way (as pictured) and do three sets of 15 with the “forehand motion” and an equal number with the “backhand motion.” And I do the same for my left side as well.

But according to, here is what they recommend:

Rotator Cuff Exercises
Before you start

The exercises described below can help you strengthen the muscles in your shoulder (especially the muscles of the rotator cuff–the part that helps with circular motion). These exercises should not cause you pain. If you feel any pain, stop exercising. Start again with a lighter weight.

Warm up before adding weights. To warm up, stretch your arms and shoulders, and do pendulum exercises. To do pendulum exercises, bend from the waist, letting your arms hang down. Keep your arm and shoulder muscles relaxed, and move your arms slowly back and forth. Perform the exercises slowly: Lift your arm to a slow count of 3 and lower your arm to a slow count of 6.

Keep repeating each of the following exercises until your arm is tired. Use a light enough weight that you don’t get tired until you’ve done the exercise about 20 to 30 times. Increase the weight a little each week (but never so much that the weight causes pain). Start with 2 ounces the first week. Move up to 4 ounces the second week, 8 ounces the next week and so on.

Each time you finish doing all 4 exercises, put an ice pack on your shoulder for 20 minutes. It’s best to use a plastic bag with ice cubes in it or a bag of frozen peas, not gel packs. If you do all 4 exercises 3 to 5 times a week, your rotator cuff muscles will become stronger, and you’ll get back normal strength in your shoulder.

Exercise 1
Start by lying on your stomach on a table or a bed. Put your left arm out at shoulder level with your elbow bent to 90° and your hand down. Keep your elbow bent, and slowly raise your left hand. Stop when your hand is level with your shoulder. Lower your hand slowly. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then do the exercise with your right arm.

Exercise 2
Lie on your left side with a rolled-up towel under your right armpit. Stretch your right arm above your head. Keep your left arm at your side with your elbow bent to 90° and the forearm resting against your chest, palm down. Roll your right shoulder out, raising the right forearm until it’s level with your shoulder. (Hint: This is like the backhand swing in tennis.) Lower the arm slowly. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then do the exercise with your left arm.

Exercise 3
Lie on your right side. Keep your left arm along the upper side of your body. Bend your right elbow to 90°. Keep the right forearm resting on the table. Now roll your right shoulder in, raising your right forearm up to your chest. (Hint: This is like the forehand swing in tennis.) Lower the forearm slowly. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then do the exercise with your left arm.

Exercise 4
In a standing position, start with your right arm halfway between the front and side of your body, thumb down. (You may need to raise your left arm for balance.) Raise your right arm until almost level (about a 45° angle). (Hint: This is like emptying a can.) Don’t lift beyond the point of pain. Slowly lower your arm. Repeat the exercise until your arm is tired. Then do the exercise with your left arm.
What has been your experience?

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5 thoughts on “Preventing Rotator Cuff Injury

  1. Good stuff, George. I had to have rotator cuff surgery 8 years ago because I had a tear-through so there was no choice. Originally I had some discomfort (not a lot), and then the tear happened in a third set tiebreaker at a USTA Sarasota Senior tournament.
    I strongly agree with you that players should start these exercises, as the surgery (especially the post-surgery pain) is a bear.

    John, i hear that shoulder surgery is worse than knee replacement! thanks, george

  2. I had my rotator cuff surgery in 2011 and it was grueling and painful. The surgeon gave me 50/50 odds that I would be able to serve again. It took me a year before I even attempted an overhead serve. So far so good. Thanks for the exercises!

    Jim, stay healthy! george

  3. George,

    These are good tips for all throwing sports athletes. The recent research tells us that the muscles in the back of the shoulder (scapula stabilizations) play even a bigger roll in the protecting the shoulder. These are basically postural exercises – shoulder shrugs, scapular pinching, sitting push-ups, low rows, and prone adduction/abduction. Also, narrow width push ups are good. You have been very fortunate to not have had some RC problems but based on your consistent and pro-active approach you take to the game, I can see why. I would add that a key ingredient is a good strong core that can be maintained with planks, leg lifts, and v-ups to name a few. We all need to take preventive steps if we want to play the game late into our life time. Thanks for the information.

    Larry, thanks for the added tips (FYI, Larry was the trainer for the Cinc. Reds team). George

  4. Having gone through rotator cuff surgery I can only agree with exercises. Do them regularly to prevent further damage to non-repaired shoulder. In my case the surgery on right should proved successful and continued exercising will keep it that way………………we hope.

    Howie, we all want you to stay healthy and beat us! george

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