Tell Me About Rotator Cuffs

About two months ago, I injured my shoulder performing a bench press while exercising. Based on what I’ve read online, I suspect it was a rotator cuff injury. I spent the following two weeks performing similar exercises with very little weight, but eventually realized that it would be best to lay off it completely for a time. I then spent another two weeks only performing back and leg exercises, performing no upper-body pushing exercises whatsoever. At this point, the semester ended and I went home for three weeks. For these three weeks I quite literally sat on my ass all day.

At no point during any of this was I unable to rotate my shoulder, lift my arm, etc. The only times I experienced pain were while I continued to do light exercises utilizing my shoulder for two weeks (as mentioned above) and if I ever made a sudden, jerky movement involving my shoulder. I had hoped that by now, after the three-week hiatus, I would be completely healed. However, when I went to do some light bench presses today, I could tell on the very first rep that I wasn’t healed.

Where do I go from here? I hope the answer isn’t an even longer break. I feel like I need the exercise if only to burn off some energy and get moving 3-4 times a week.

I’ll let someone else handle rotator cuffs since I know little about them. I think it’s the point where four smaller muscles meet and an imbalance is what usually goes wrong but again, not my area.

What I do know about are bench presses. I lifted heavy for many years and early on had read an article by strength coach Bill Starr (still my favourite writer on anything related to heavy lifting). He mentioned several times that rotator cuff injuries were almost unheard of in the days before bench pressing became popular. He didn’t advise dropping the lift, just supplementing it with heavy overhead presses and dips. Too many people go heavy on the bench and then train shoulders with light presses or dumbbell flyes or whatever. You don’t get strong by lifting light weights. When you get back into it work some standing presses into your routine, do dips and chin-ups. Get that balance back.

Good luck with the rotator cuff.

I have been doing some rotator cuff exercises to help some aches and pains:



I do the internal standing. My version of the external is to do them using the cable low pulley while standing. The opposite of the internal. I found the lying on your side on a bench awkward to say the least.

I have also tried doing some front rotations by sitting on a bench press with my back against the bar and my elbows resting on the bar. Using light dumbbells, I raise them from hanging down to horizontal and repeat.

These exercises have been helpful. I have also being doing standing military and push presses to build up my shoulders. I just need to get in the gym more often. With a night school class finally done, that is my New Year’s resolution.

Bill Starr is indeed an excellent, no BS writer. He has a column every month in Ironman. Another thing he and others point out is that the flat bench press is not very good at building the chest and is prone to causing injuries. (I think my problems stem from doing too many wide-grip bench presses in the past) They recommend slight incline and DB presses.

I’ll take a stab at this.

You have four rotator cuff muscles – the subscapularis at the front of the shoulder, the teres minor at the back and below the armpit, and two muscles that cover the top and bottom of the triangular bone on the back behind the shoulder (scapula), the supraspinatus and infraspinatus.

When you injure the rotator cuff, you generally tear or damage the tendons (connects muscle to bone) to one or more of these muscles. This usually makes it painful to make a snow angel motion, such as lifting your arms in a circle in the plane of your body so the hands meet above your head. Rotator cuff injuries often cause pain from 30-120 degrees of this arc, where 0 degrees is your hands at your sides, like you are standing at attention.

It would not be unusual for a tendon to take 6-8 weeks or more to heal.

Depending on how badly the tendon is injured, lifting weights might reinjure the tendon and delay healing further. If the injury is mild, only lifting heavier weights can cause pain.

You are familiar with the pain caused by, say, the day after overdoing it on deadlifts. You can tell the tendon has not healed. If the weight you used when this was felt was already small, I would wait another two weeks before doing any bench pressing. If the weight was larger, I would start much slowly at weights that do not trigger this pain. My two cents.

I’ve got rotator cuff issues right now, primarily in my right shoulder. In my case, not tied to a specific issue but rather to wear and tear (sigh… I turned 50 and pretty much everything immediately started to go to hell).

I would recommend seeing an orthopedist for this, or at least your primary care doctor. In my case, I’ve got an MRI scheduled for later this week, then they’ll decide whether to attack it via physical therapy, surgery, or some combination.

Persisting in exercising, when it hurts, would seem to be risking worsening the injury and turning it from a partial to a full tear.

Mine has been gradually getting worse for 3-4 months and I’ve been taking ibuprofen for it which seemed to be helping. Then I had to quit taking ibuprofen (long story involving gallbladder, liver involvement, possible clotting issues, and upcoming surgery for gallbladder) and it clearly has not improved. I rolled over “wrong” in bed the other day and the damn thing hurt like hell.

I injured my left rotator cuff… uh… two years ago? It was as Dr._Paprika described. I rested for a couple of weeks, the pain subsided so I jumped right back into my activities - TOO SOON!

Thanks to my “over enthusiasm” it took another 8 weeks to heal. For quite a long time afterwards, I had problems raising my arm from what, going by Dr_P’s description, would be 40 degree mark. It was like I just couldn’t do it. I had to do tedious physio exercises for a long time after that (and I’m supposed to do them regularly even now).

I would highly recommend finding an different activity that doesn’t use your rotator cuff for awhile. You do not what to be in the suckville that I was in waiting to heal. (No rock climbing, no kayaking, no baseball… so boring it was!)