How to Stretch Your Rotator Cuff: 5 Best Movements to Prevent Injuries


Your rotator cuff is made up of tendons and muscles that keep the head of your upper-arm bone in your shoulder socket. It’s key for shoulder stability and allows your shoulder to rotate safely so you can do things like lift your arms up overhead and reach up. Basically, if you like to move your arms over your head you need to learn how to take care of your rotator cuff as this area of the body is commonly injured. Continue reading to learn the 5 best movements to prevent a rotator cuff injury.

How Can You Injure Your Rotator Cuff?

You can tear your rotator cuff if you don’t know how to properly use these muscles or have weak shoulder muscles. Many rotator cuff injuries are due to wear-and-tear that happens from doing the same arm movements repeatedly, weakness in a certain area of the shoulder, or not warming up the body properly.

How Do Exercises/Stretches Support Your Rotator Cuff?

Most people have really weak infraspinatus and teres minor rotator cuff muscles. Stretching them isn’t always the most conducive thing to do. You want to loosen the back of the shoulder and strengthen your rotator cuff to protect these areas of the body. 

People with rounded shoulders (most of us since a lot of us have poor posture due to a more sedentary lifestyle) and a forward posture need to learn how to stretch their subscapularis muscle (the one deep in the armpit on the underside of your shoulder blade). Rounded posture isn’t great for your shoulders either and can lead to neck pain, back pain, muscle imbalances, and more, so learning proper posture will also be beneficial for your shoulders too.

5 Rotator Cuff Exercises/Stretches for Healthy Shoulders

These active rotator cuff stretches will help you prepare for any upper body exercise or movement, so you don’t injure your shoulders. You will need a stick (like the ones our friends over at Stick Mobility make) or a PVC pipe to do these. Let’s check them out:

1. Semi-Active Rotator Cuff Stretch with Stick Support (Behind the Back)

  • Lift both arms up with your stick in your right hand. 

  • Bend your right elbow and bring your left arm behind your back and place the front of your left palm into the stick. 

  • Pull the stick down with your right hand to feel a stretch in your shoulder/rotator cuff. 

  • Hold it. Stop. Then resist into it and push into the stick. 

  • Continue for 1-2 minutes.

Rotator Cuff Stretch

2. Semi-Active Rotator Cuff Stretch with Stick Support (In Front of the Body)

  • Lift your left arm up forming a “goal post” arm. 

  • Grab onto the stick with your right arm and bring the stick down towards your belly button, behind your left below and into your left hand. 

  • Hold and then drive your left arm up. 

  • Continue for 1 to 2 minutes. 

Note: During both stick exercises you will do repetitions of resisting the stick and then relaxing. Alternating between contracting and relaxing your shoulder joint’s end-range of motion helps you warm up the muscles in your rotator cuff. 

Hot Tip: If you’re more of a visual person, you can check out us demoing these warm-up exercises for your rotator cuff as well online.

Rotator Cuff Stretch

3. Cow Face Pose Modified 

This is a common yoga pose that can open tight shoulders. We’re going to explain how to do half of this pose which targets your upper body. You can either sit or stand for this stretch.

What you need: yoga strap (if you have tight shoulders)

  • Lift your left arm above your head and bend your elbow to lower your left hand in between your shoulder blades. 

  • Bring your right arm behind your back and place your right hand in between your shoulder blades to meet your left hand (note you can use a strap, such as a yoga strap if your hands don’t meet). 

  • Breathe, exhale to release and switch sides.

4. Infraspinatus Self-Massage 

Your infraspinatus is responsible for shoulder extension. It is a thick triangular muscle that is part of your rotator cuff located at the back of your shoulder. If you’re experiencing any pain down your arm, rotator cuff issues, or tightness in this area, we have just the stretch for you.

What you need: a lacrosse ball and a slight tolerance for a little bit of pain. 

  • Get a lacrosse ball and place it on your infraspinatus. 

  • Find that area where you feel sensation (you may need to play around for a bit to find it).

  • Breathe into the ball and relax into it. 

  • If you’re in too much pain, back off slightly and don’t put that much weight into it.

Note: This isn’t a long-term fix for shoulder pain. You also need to learn how to strengthen your shoulders and fix your postural issues. You need to put in the daily work to see long-term results. The MoveU Membership is here to help you reach those long-term goals with support, humor, and how-to videos to get you there. 

Hot Tip: For you visual people, here’s us doing the infraspinatus self-massage with step-by-step instructions. 

Rotator Cuff Self Massage

5. Scapula retractions 

To reduce neck and shoulder pain, you need to learn how to do scapula retractions which will also help you have a healthy relationship with your rotator cuff. Here’s how to do them:

What you need: a light band 

  • Attach your band to a door handle (or something like that) that is at shoulder height. 

  • Focus on pulling your shoulder blade down and back slightly. Make sure your shoulder doesn’t lift. 

  • Do 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 20 repetitions on each arm. 

  • Then, once you have the shoulder blade retractions down, do another set where you lift your arm up overhead.

Note: 90% of people find scapula retractions difficult so have a friend video tape you doing this to see what your shoulders are doing mid exercise. 

Hot Tip: We’ve got you visual learners covered with this video on how to do scapular retractions with ease. 

Scapula Contractions

Getting strong shoulders and reducing rotator cuff pain doesn’t happen overnight. Hop on over to the MoveU Membership to check out our Shoulder Program to learn how to get rid of shoulder pain for good.

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