What Equipment Helps Rotator Cuff Injuries at a Gym?

Does your shoulder hurt? Do you find it difficult to carry out daily tasks, such as brushing your hair, reaching for something on a high shelf, or driving a car? Odds are, you have a rotator cuff injury or tear.

It’s not uncommon, but a combination of rest, at-home remedies, and physical therapy can often resolve the problem. However, don’t ignore obvious warning signs. The use of equipment below may not be ideal as of yet.

See a GP if: the shoulder pain gets worse after two weeks. Here are the symptoms that tell if a shoulder injury deserves medical attention:

  • Pain that continues to worsen or constant pain
  • Pain that wakes you up or prevents you from falling asleep
  • Decreased range of motion
  • No pain relief after icing, several days of rest, and OTC anti-inflammatory medications
  • Sharp and sudden pain

Now, onto the topic. Let’s talk about rotator cuff injury and some equipment you can use at the gym (or in your home gym) to convert your bum shoulder into a healthier one finally. What Are the Different Types of Rotator Cuff Injuries?

Rotator cuff injuries are not just one thing. They are a network of tendons or a collection of four small muscles that work together to move and lift your arms. 

These tendons and muscles work to keep the ball in the shoulder socket. With wear and tear, it can lead to:

Rotator cuff tears: This injury is a tear in the rotator cuff tendon, either partial or complete. Your rotator cuff tendon may tear because of a single event (example: falling on an outstretched arm) or slowly deteriorate because of a repeated motion (example: a plumber who often raises his arms overhead).

– Rotator cuff tendonitis occurs when the rotator cuff tendons and muscles are inflamed, leading to impingement or pinching between your shoulder blade bone and your arm. Overusing the shoulder muscles and muscle strain often leads to rotator cuff tendonitis.

– Rotator cuff bursitis: This rotator cuff injury is characterized by the inflammation of the small fluid-filled sac in the shoulder. Gentle exercises and rest can speed up the recovery.

– Frozen shoulder: Also called adhesive capsulitis, frozen shoulder is characterized by pain and stiffness in the shoulder joint. 

Symptoms and signs typically start gradually and worsen over time. Patients recovering from shoulder injuries are often recommended to wear a compression shoulder brace.

– Shoulder impingement syndrome: This condition of the upper extremity, also called the swimmer’s shoulder, generally results from structural narrowing of the space above the shoulder’s ball-and-socket joint called subacromial space. 

Overheard repeated activity of the shoulder is a risk factor for a swimmer’s shoulder. Examples include tennis, swimming, painting, lifting, and other overhead sports. Joint and bone abnormalities are also risk factors. 

– Shoulder osteoarthritis: Also referred to as a degenerative joint disease of the shoulder, shoulder osteoarthritis is a progressive, gradual, biochemical, and mechanical breakdown of the cartilage and joint tissues. 

While there is no cure, there are several ways to ease pain, stay active, and preserve mobility. Surgery can often speed up healing if you’ve had a rotator cuff injury. Surgery may be a great option if you need to return to work quickly or play sports. 

Related Post: Common Deadlift Injuries Can You Exercise With a Torn or Injured Rotator Cuff?

Some individuals can exercise with an injured rotator cuff, while others can’t. It means there’s no one answer to the question above.

A tear (partial or complete) on your rotator cuff muscle may make it difficult to move or raise your arm. So, expect a less-than-ideal range of motion and general weakness in your joint.

However, it doesn’t mean that exercises are a definite no. How many workouts you can do after tearing or injuring your rotator cuff depends on your ability to tolerate pain and the severity of your injury.

Generally, after one month or two and with physical therapy, people can often feel comfortable on their shoulders. 

When to start exercising again?

You can begin exercising after a rotator cuff injury after six weeks. By this time, you can do light arm movements to start building strength without aggravating your tendons. 

If you’ve undergone surgery, you can start exercising only after 12 weeks. You can do light resistance workouts, like barbell weights, dumbbells, or exercise machines. Listen to your body and begin with very light resistance. If you experience any pain, take a few days off. 

Full recovery often begins within 16 to 20 weeks. It is important to note, though, that this timeline is general. You can always consult an orthopedic doctor or a physical therapist.

7 Best Gym Equipment for Rotator Cuff Repair Treatment and Training

Several exercise machines target the rotator cuff and the shoulder area. The following gym equipment can be a part of your rotator cuff muscles injury rehab program to improve your flexibility and strengthen your rotator cuff:

1. Light Dumbbells

Using a light dumbbell is ideal if you have an injured rotator cuff. In the early weeks, avoid lifting the dumbbell from the sides of your body or above your head. These movements may further the damage or cause more stress to your rotator cuffs.

How dumbbell exercises can help in healing the posterior rotator cuff muscles and tendons in the shoulder joint

For instance, a dumbbell bench press can help target the medial and anterior deltoids, triceps, and pecs. These are the front and side portions of the shoulder muscles. 

One of the exercises to try is side-lying external rotation, where you lie down on the opposite of your injured shoulder or arm. 

Then hold the dumbbell on the side of the injured shoulder and slowly raise the dumbbell. You can also do a bent-arm stretch. Stop the exercise if your shoulder or arm feels strained.

Related Post: Best Dumbbell Set with Rack

2. Resistance Bands

Resistance bands are great for shoulder injuries. They help rehab or strengthen your rotator cuff and shoulder. For most people, the best size of an elastic exercise band for physical therapy is 5”.

One exercise you can do in your injured arm is the shoulder abduction to 90 degrees. You do this by standing on the band with your foot while holding the band with your injured arm. Lift the band to 90 degrees to your shoulder level. 

Hold it for one to two seconds and slowly lower your arm to starting position. You can also use the Bbtops pilates bar exercise stick for this workout and other rotator cuff exercises, such as an external rotation (which requires keeping your upper arm by your side), shoulder extension, and shoulder flexion to 90 degrees.

3. Weight Bench

Using a weight bench, you can do retractions and protractions to help train and treat your rotator cuff. Retraction means pulling your shoulder blades together, whereas protractions are those exercises that require you to extend your shoulder blade.

Brace your off-hand on a weight bench and bend your hips. You may even combine a physical therapy or shoulder workout using a light dumbbell while keeping your arm and back straight. Then, retract your shoulder blade. 

Another option for using a weight bench to heal your existing injury on the rotator cuff or shoulder is a bench dip. You pull your entire body weight onto the weight bench in this workout.

Related Post: Best Cheap Weight Bench

4. ShoulderSphere

My favorite exercise equipment for rotator cuff strengthening is the ShoulderSphere A7. An easy way to use this tool is to put it on top of your hand and gently cradle it, palm facing up. The strap should be securely wrapped, especially at wrist level.

The exercise tool uses multidirectional and rotational movements to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and the shoulder.

You can do this lying down, seated, or standing. You don’t even need to look for another object to tie it down, like what you do in a resistance band workout. Your arm’s length already refines the workout space, and it can be done anywhere and in any direction you choose.

Recreational, competitive athletes, patients rehabilitating after a surgery or injury, weekend warriors, professional athletes, or anyone wanting to increase mobility and shoulder strength can use this exercise equipment.

5. Bicep Curl Machine

The bicep curl machine is another great gym equipment for rotator cuff exercises. It works not just on your shoulder blades but also on your forearms and biceps.

If you practice the correct bicep curl form, such an exercise can strengthen the rotator cuff and the shoulder muscles. Biceps are fundamental in strength sports because they help you pull, snatch, and clean (weightlifting movements). 

Biceps are also the secondary muscles behind the primary muscles of the upper back and shoulders.

6. Press Machine

The shoulder press machine – also called the seated shoulder press machine- is another excellent piece of equipment that helps rotator cuff tear and injury. It has a fixed resistance, meaning the motion pattern is completely set.

You can easily change the resistance in a press machine by adjusting how many plates are loaded or which weight the pin is sitting at.

7. Dip Machine

Last but not least, in this post, “What equipment helps rotator cuff injuries at a gym,” is the dip machine.

A workout on the dip machine is therapeutic on the shoulders. You can push your shoulders back and down in the equipment. Don’t shrug or let them roll forward. As for grip width, your hands should be under your shoulders.

Easy Rotator Cuff Rehab Exercises

(Exercises That Strengthen the Rotator Cuff Muscles)

  • Doorway stretch (you only need an open doorway to spread your arms out)
  • High-to-lows; lawn mower pull (equipment to use: resistance band)
  • Side-lying external rotation; reverse fly (equipment to use: light dumbbell)
  • Internal rotation (equipment to use: elastic band)
  • Posterior stretch (you only need to use your hand or arm to pull the injured arm gently across your body)
  • Pendulum swing (equipment to use: a weight bench or a chair to gently swing your injured arm)
  • Dip movements (weight bench)
  • Wing flap; V-arm raise(uses only body weight or a dumbbell)
  • Reverse flys (equipment to use: dumbbells)

Note: Once again, the exercises shared above are not medical advice but based on experience as someone in the fitness industry for years.

The Bottomline

The minimum recovery time for rotator cuff injuries is two to four weeks. Some stubborn cases may take several months. 

Improve your shoulder’s range of motion with simple home therapies and eventually move to strengthening exercises using the equipment we shared above. 

Good luck, and our team earnestly wishes for your speedy recovery!

If you like this article, you might want to read our other reviews at ExpertFitness.org.

Nathan Lloyd, MSc

I’m a personal trainer, based in Boulder, Colorado.
I service clients physically in the Boulder area, mainly in the ONE Boulder Fitness Gym, but am also available for online consulting and coaching.

If you’re interested in my personal coaching programs, please contact me via the contact page.