4 Rotator Cuff Rehab Tips for Professionals (Free Exercise Guide) $0.00

4 Rotator Cuff Rehab Tips for Professionals (Free Exercise Guide)

By: Rebecca Moore |
4 Rotator Cuff Rehab Tips for Professionals (Free Exercise Guide)

Looking to up your rehabilitation game with your post-op rotator cuff repair patients? Rotator cuff tears are commonly found in excessively active populations, so these patients need a treatment plan that gets them back too 100% as efficiently as possible. Today, we’ll cover four essential tips for elite, safe and evidence-based recovery, and the top five exercises a world-renowned physical therapist uses to get his patients swinging again.

When is Rotator Cuff Repair Surgery Appropriate?

Before we jump into the tips, lets address why patients undergo rotator cuff surgery in the first place. Hands-on healthcare professionals traditionally treat rotator cuff injuries with conservative approaches like rest, mobility training and strengthening exercises. In more serious cases, however, erring on the side of timid may actually cause more harm than good. While the final decision of surgery will be recommended based off of a full exam including diagnostic imaging, you may suggest that your patients seek out surgical interventions if:

  • The patient has been experiencing symptoms for over six months
  • The injury is a partial or full tear that is large enough to justify repair
  • The patient is experiencing significant pain, weakness or loss of function
  • The patient participates in extensive overhead activities throughout the day

4 Essential Post-Op Recovery Tips

1. Don’t Push Your Patients Too Hard

Strengthening the rotator cuff musculature is inevitably the end goal for a successful post-op recovery, but don’t throw away the sling too soon. Appropriately dosing activity on an individual basis means that recovery timing will be different for every rotator cuff repair. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests the following phases of rehabilitation:

  1. Immobilization - Keep the arm from moving for the first 4-6 weeks.
  2. Passive Exercise - Help your patients improve range of motion with passive mobility exercises, starting within the first 4-6 weeks.
  3. Active Exercise - After 4-6 weeks, have patients complete the same mobility exercises without your assistance.
  4. Strengthening Exercises - Begin adding load to your patient’s exercise program at 8-12 weeks post-op.

2. Teach Your Patients Which Shoulder Positions to Avoid

As your patients get more comfortable moving their arms, make sure you specifically outline which positions will be detrimental to the healing process. This may also include modified ways of sitting and laying down. These positions will be ever-evolving as they enter new phases of rehabilitation, so keep the lines of communication open and honest.

3. Practice Safer Pain Relief

Your patients will more than likely be given pain medications like opioids or NSAIDs to help manage the inevitable post-op pain. But as you know, the opioid epidemic is causing hands-on healthcare professionals to step up and position themselves and their care as the ultimate pain reliever. Talk to your patients about the potential of pain medication reliance and explain to them that these medications may mask the pain, but sticking with your prescribed exercise program is the ultimate tool to achieving pain-free movement.

4. Make Rehab as Accessible as Possible

Once your patients have entered the active exercise and strengthening phases, prescribing exercises that can be easily performed at home empowers your patients to heal beyond the clinic. Thankfully, multiple studies have proven that these programs are just as successful as in-person training.

In a randomized clinical trial, researchers found that outcomes for subjects allocated to individualized physical therapy treatment after rotator cuff repair are no better than for subjects allocated to a standardized, unsupervised home exercise regimen.2 A second study dove deeper into how home program instruction was distributed, finding that a group that was given a video aid to guide exercises had self-reported outcomes equal to patients instructed in their home program personally by a physical therapist3.

One of the biggest components of enabling your patients to comply with their home exercise program is giving them the tools they need to do their exercises anytime, anywhere. Todd Ellenbecker DPT, MS, SCS, OCS, CSCS knows firsthand that giving patients portable, accessible tools doesn’t have to be difficult. After spending years working with professional tennis players, he uses tools like the TheraBand CLX Elastic Resistance Band , CLX Door Anchor and FlexBar to make sure that patients can complete the same exercises at home, the gym or at work that they can in the clinic.

Dr. Ellenbecker’s Top 5 Rotator Cuff Repair Exercises

Using only those tools, Dr. Ellenbecker has created a simple but effective exercise program for rotator cuff repair post-op patients. Incorporate his protocol into your programs today.

Download our printable exercise guide to give your athletes a visual reminder of their exercise program


1. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/treatment/rotator-cuff-tears-surgical-treatment-options/

2. Hayes K et al 2004. A randomised clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of physiotherapy after rotator cuff repair Aust J Physiother 50(2):77-83

3. Roddey TS et al. 2002. A randomized controlled trial comparing 2 instructional approaches to home exercise instruction following arthroscopic full-thickness rotator cuff repair surgery J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 32(11):548-59