Rotator Cuff Injuries: What Exercises Should I Consider and What should I Avoid?

Rotator cuff tears are becoming more prevalent as a result of an ageing population, and can be a cause of significant pain and disability. Some research has suggested that interventions such as exercise can be helpful in select people with rotator cuff tears to help increase their physical function and pain levels. Exercise rehabilitation has been supported in certain groups of people:

  • Group I:
    • Chronic full-thickness tears in an older age group (> 60 years).
    • Irreparable tears
  • Group II:
    • Tendinopathy
    • Partial-thickness tears
    • Small (<1cm full thickness tears)

The exercises that are important to consider in a rehabilitation program are the ones that focus on restoring range of motion and strength of the affected shoulder. It is also important to perform a shoulder exercise program for at least 12 weeks to help drive significant change in your pain and function. It may be wise to minimise provocative movements in the early stage of the condition. Each person will have particular shoulder positions that may make their pain a lot worse. A commonly reported movement that may be difficult to do are tasks performed overhead. If it is difficult to perform overhead exercises initially, it would be advised to put them on hold in the short-term, and then gradually work your way up over time towards those painful positions to help build your tolerance.

Can I lift weights if I have a rotator cuff tear? 

It is totally safe to perform weight training if you have a rotator cuff tear. Weight training has been shown to improve the integrity of the affected tendon, restore normal movement patterns, reduce fear and reinforce positive expectations around movement of the shoulder. Here is a video with various options of weight training to help you continue to improve your shoulder health. There is not a single BEST exercise, but, an appropriate exercise can be chosen when considering your current pain levels, capacity and range of motion. It is important to make your exercises more challenging from week-to-week, as this will help with your rehab progression.

Can I do push ups with a rotator cuff injury?

Bodyweight exercises such as a push up can also be performed if you have rotator cuff related pain. It is a great exercise that can challenge the rotator cuff muscles, shoulders, chest, and triceps. Here is a video with easy-to-hard push up options that you can choose from to help with your shoulder rehabilitation. Push-ups performed on the floor are commonly utilised in later stages of rehabilitation. The practical thing about push ups is that it can easily be performed from your home or at a park.

Is ice or heat better for rotator cuff pain?

The use of cold or heat modalities are common when dealing with musculoskeletal pain and injury. There is some confusion with what type of modality to use when dealing with pain. Cold modalities (i.e. Ice packs) can be used for an acute rotator cuff tear to help with some pain management in the first 24-72 hours. There is not enough evidence to support the use of ice for management for swelling or to accelerate the healing processes. The use of heat (i.e. heat packs) can be applied to help with general muscle soreness and stiffness in the painful shoulder. It is important to keep in mind that each individual’s response to heat or ice may be different. These modalities are always optional and not a necessity when dealing with shoulder pain.

Do you have a rotator cuff tear or think you might have a rotator-cuff related injury? Book with us now and we can commence your recovery journey!


Edwards, P., Ebert, J., Joss, Brendan., Bhabra, G., Ackland, T., & Wang, A. (2016). Exercise rehabilitation in the non-operative management of rotator cuff tears: A review of the literature. International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 11(2), 279–301.

Malanga, G. A., Yan, N., & Stark, J. (2014). Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury. Postgraduate Medicine, 127(1), 57–65.

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