7 Worst Rotator Cuff Tear Exercises To Avoid Physical Injury

Rotator Cuff Tear Exercises To Avoid

Most people don’t realize that our shoulders play an important role in our day-to-day activities.

We use our shoulders for numerous activities, including throwing a ball, brushing our hair, painting, writing, etc.

The shoulder muscles themselves include a group of smaller muscles and tendons that make up the rotator cuff.

These muscles act to keep the shoulder joint stable. If you have an injured rotator cuff you may find this impacts your daily activities, because of this it’s important to understand which rotator cuff tear exercises to avoid when working out..

Recommended Reading – 5 Best Resistance Band Shoulder Exercises To Target Your Shoulders

Rotator cuff injuries or tears are common, and they can be painful, taking a long time to heal.

If you happen to suffer from rotator cuff pain there are a few exercises you should avoid next time you go to the gym.

This article will cover eight rotator cuff tear exercises to avoid due to their increased likelihood of damage to your shoulder.

7 Worst Rotator Cuff Tear Exercises To Avoid

If you have a torn rotator cuff muscle, here are eight exercises to avoid when working out.

rotator cuff tendinitis exercises
4 Muscles Which Form The Rotator Cuff

Triceps Dips

Although tricep dips are great for strengthening the tricep muscles, they make the “avoid” list because they require too much internal shoulder rotation.

Additionally, this particular exercise can put pressure on the shoulder bursae, a small fluid filled sac that limits friction between the joints exacerbating an injury

In order to perform dips, the shoulder must be almost fully extended, which causes the humeral head to advance.


However, most people make the mistake of moving their bottom too far from their hands and too low when performing this movement, which adds to stress placed on the shoulders.

Furthermore, many people rock their entire body back and forth rather than bending their elbows.

You can still develop your triceps without putting unnecessary pressure on your injured shoulder.

Therefore, this exercise can be substituted for tricep kickbacks or pulldowns at a cable machine until you are ready to advance.

Overhead Movements With Weights

Many people with rotator cuff problems report that overhead reaching can be very painful.

An injured rotator cuff is likely to get worse by workouts that require reaching behind the neck with weights due to the shoulder rotation required to undertake the movement.

Examples of overhead movements with weights include triceps press and overhead press

Recommended Reading – Discover The Overhead Press Muscles Worked Plus 9 Variations

Avoid any movement that forces your centre of gravity behind your neck.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a good substitute for training your overhead strength since you can only do so by reaching overhead.

However, you might be able to practice shoulder flexion until it’s safe to resume your previous exercises without running the risk of further harm.

Upright Rows

The upright row is one of the most effective and widely performed exercises in the gym.

However, looking closely, you’ll see that the upright row is a bad exercise for people with shoulder injuries.

The main reason is the awkward position your arms will have to be in during the movement.

upright row with smith machine

This workout puts your arms in a position called “internal rotation.”

When your arms are in this position, your shoulder bones pinch on a small tendon in your shoulder, which can cause pain.

This may eventually result in excessive wear and tear.

Although you might not see the results immediately, this exercise will gradually weaken and harm your tendon.

Behind The Neck Pulldown

Another workout for people with shoulder injuries to avoid is the behind-the-neck pulldown.

This movement overworks your rotator cuff and increases your risk of developing chronic pain and further shoulder injuries.

The problem with this movement is that it puts your shoulders in a delicate position called the “external rotation.”

This exercise requires full external rotation of the shoulders.

The behind-the-neck pulldown is challenging for damaged shoulders because it can overstretch your tissues and cause joint instability, leading to further injury.

behind the neck lat pulldown

I wouldn’t recommend this movement without guidance, regardless of having healthy shoulders.

Most fitness professionals have long since disapproved of this exercise.

You are at a greater risk of developing anterior shoulder instability if you continue to perform lat pulldowns behind the head.

Over time, anterior instability can lead to further damage to the rotator cuff muscles and other ligaments or cartilage.

If your shoulders don’t have enough range of motion, you could strain other muscles to compensate for the lack of movement and end up in an even more awkward position, creating more issues.

Serving Sports or Overhead Throwing

Certain sporting activities like volleyball and basketball that require serving or throwing can also aggravate cranky shoulders.

baseball throw

So, if your rotator cuff muscles are torn, and you play a sport such as football, it may worsen after a few throws.

Therefore, it may be best to take a break until your rotator cuff muscles get better.

You can also take time off to improve your skill and become a better athlete.

Recommended Reading – 5 Targeted Pitching Strength Exercises To Boost Throwing Power

Lap Swimming

Despite being in a pool, there’s still a possibility of hurting your shoulders.

You should be aware that swimming might actually make your rotator cuff muscles worse if you do it frequently.

Moreover, rotator cuff injuries are a common issue for swimmers.

Overtraining increases the risk of rotator cuff injuries in both novice and seasoned swimmers.

Swimming is a good resistance exercise that requires a lot of repetitive overhead strokes.

lap swimming

Swimming, backstroke, butterfly, and freestyle strokes are rough on the shoulders due to repetitive overhead motion.

Breaststroke may be okay for your shoulders, but it all comes down to your pain threshold and how experienced you are.

Although you may still reach overhead, the arc for breaststroke differs from that of freestyle and backstroke.

Lateral Raises

The middle of the deltoid muscle is one of the most important parts of the shoulder, and exercises designed to strengthen it are often referred to as abduction exercises.

The supraspinatus muscle performs a special function by kicking off the abduction motion during the first 15 degrees of shoulder flexion.


Furthermore, it helps stabilize and compress the upper arm bone (humerus) to prevent impingement.

If performed incorrectly, lateral raises can cause injury to the supraspinatus muscle.

An injury to the supraspinatus muscle will affect abduction motion, and this can cause more impingement and aggravate an existing rotator cuff injury

Common Exercises For Rotator Cuff Injuries Also Include:

Best Rotator Cuff Exercises to Prevent Injury

Here are some of the best stretches to loosen up your rotator cuff:

Bent-Arm Stretch

How To Perform;

  1. Hold a cane in your hands and lie down on the floor.
  2. Keep your elbows at your sides and bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Now focus your eyes on the cane as your fingers clasp on it.
  4. Raise your arms slowly over your head and rotate them while maintaining a 90-degree angle at the elbow. Reach as far back as possible, aiming for the ground behind your head. If you can reach the floor, that’s great! If not, that’s okay, too as with repeated use your flexibility will likely improve.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position, breath, and then repeat four to five times.

Pendulum Swing

To Perform This Exercise;

  1. Grab a steady chair and stand to the side of it, you can lean on and place your hand on it for support.
  2. Next, lean forward gently without hunching your back and allow your injured arm to dangle freely. Then, gently swing the injured arm forward and back for one to two minutes.
  3. Next, gently swing your arm side-to-side for a few minutes.
  4. Return your arm to the starting position and move it in small circles. Swing in a clockwise motion for one to two minutes, and then switch the direction of your arm counter clockwise.
  5. Place your other arm on the chair and repeat the exercise.

Up-The-Back Stretch

This exercise helps to improve the flexibility in your shoulder joint so that you can reach behind you helping with general day to day activities. Note that you need both your arms and a light cane or mobility stick for this exercise.

  1. Maintain an upright stance with your arms at your sides and the cane propped up against your back. Bring the cane up close to the top of your buttocks.
  2. Slowly bend your elbows upwards as you glide the cane up your back. Glide the cane as high as you comfortably can.
  3. Stop when things get uncomfortable and return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the exercise four to five times.

Crossover Arm Stretch

  1. Stand up straight and relax your shoulders and body. Take a few deep breaths before you begin the exercise.
  2. Stretch your injured arm across your chest (below your chin) and reach as far as possible.
  3. Your good arm helps by supporting the elbow area of your injured arm.
  4. If you are doing it correctly, you should feel more of a stretch rather than pain in your shoulder.
  5. Return to the starting position, breathe, and repeat the exercise with the other arm.


Is Physical Therapy Effective for a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Physical therapy (PT) may be the answer to treating your rotator cuff injury. With the help of a physical therapist, you can restore your strength and mobility after suffering an injury.

Therapists may include exercises, heat treatment, massage, and ice treatment. If you have a torn rotator cuff muscle, consult a physical therapist about the best ways to get back into action without aggravating your condition.

Can I Exercise With Rotator Cuff Injury?

If you’ve suffered a tear of a rotator cuff muscle (partial or complete), you may find it difficult to do even simple things like moving your arms. Additionally, you may experience a reduced range of motion and general weakness in the joint.

After suffering a rotator cuff injury, you may feel like you can’t exercise for a few days or weeks. However, you may not need to stop exercising altogether just because of pain. Your pain tolerance and the severity of your injury will determine how much exercise you can perform.

Some people can continue exercising even after tearing their rotator cuff muscle, whilst others cannot. If comfortable, you can still work out using a much lighter weight and choose specific exercises to rehabilitate the shoulder rather than aiming for muscle growth.

Roughly 80% of people with partial tears in their rotator cuffs get better by:

-Resting (or wearing an arm sling) will give your overworked shoulder the much-needed time off.
-Getting steroid shots to lessen the discomfort and swelling.
-Using aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
-Using physical therapy (PT) to regain mobility and strength


Rotator cuff tendonitis is a painful condition with the affected shoulder resulting in poor shoulder mechanics and hampering their ability to perform daily tasks with proper form.

Hitting the gym while ignoring may only worsen your shoulder injury.

When recovering from a rotator cuff injury, you need to avoid certain shoulder exercises and stretches.

Exercises such as the tricep dip, lap swimming, upright throws, and lateral raises may aggravate an already painful injury.

Additionally, some of the most effective stretches for a rotator cuff injury are included here.

Depending on the severity of your rotator cuff injury, it may be necessary to seek medical advice from an orthopedic doctor or shoulder pain specialist for the best treatment options and exercise rehabilitation.

Leave a Reply