Health blog

Rotator cuff physical therapy exercises for student-athletes

August 1st, 2023
Rotator Cuff Physical Therapy Exercises for Student-Athletes

We all put our shoulders through wear and tear on a daily basis, especially people who participate in strenuous fitness activities and sports. Nearly every sport requires ample mobility of the shoulder, from tossing a basketball from the three-point line to swinging a golf club. While athletes of any age are at risk of a shoulder injury, student-athletes spend hours and hours of their day after school and on the weekends putting excessive strain on their shoulders, potentially injuring their rotator cuff.

Whether they are trying to restore their rotator cuff’s strength after an injury or they want to improve its quality to boost their athletic performance, there are many rotator cuff physical therapy exercises that student-athletes can try.

Read on to learn about the basics of rotator cuffs, the benefits of rotator cuff physical therapy and potential exercises that a therapist may recommend.

The basics of rotator cuffs

In your shoulder, you have a group of tendons and muscles called the rotator cuff that attaches the shoulder blade to the humerus and keeps your arm in place while you move it. It can be susceptible to injuries including tears, strains and tendinitis, which refers to swelling of the tendons. 

Rotator cuff injuries are often caused by progressive wear and tear from overuse, as well as trauma, such as a fall or accident during sports.

Common symptoms of rotator cuff injuries include:

  • Pain, especially during movement.
  • Reduced range of motion.
  • Weakness.

The benefits of rotator cuff physical therapy for student-athletes

While physical therapy is often used for rehabilitation and recovery for injuries like a rotator cuff tear, it can also be used to boost athletic performance to reduce the risk of injury. That’s why student-athletes can seek physical therapy to improve rotator cuff quality and help their gameplay as well as for rotator cuff injury treatment.

Here are a few benefits for student-athletes seeking physical therapy for their rotator cuff, both with and without an injury:

  • Increased muscle strength.
  • Improved mechanics.
  • Increased range of motion. 
  • Reduced risk of injury or re-injury.
  • Accelerated healing process.
  • Improved flexibility.

5 rotator cuff physical therapy exercises

There are a variety of rotator cuff exercises that a physical therapist might recommend to a student-athlete. They will determine the best exercise plan based on the condition of your rotator cuff, your medical history and your personal ability.

Your physical therapist will instruct you on how many times to repeat each exercise.

Here are five rotator cuff physical therapy exercises:


  • Doorway stretch — Stand in an open doorway with your arms extended out to the side so that your hands are resting against the frame at or below shoulder height. Lean through the doorway until you feel a stretch. Shift your weight forward onto your toes to feel a stretch in front of your shoulder.

  • Side-lying shoulder external rotation — Lie down on your side. On the side of your body that’s facing up, place a rolled towel under your armpit so that your forearm isn’t resting on your body. Slowly rotate your free forearm toward the sky before returning it to rest. Repeat as instructed by your physical therapist.

  • Prone shoulder row & rotate — Lie on your stomach on an elevated surface, such as a table, so that your arm can hang over the side. Bring your elbow up so that it’s at a 90-degree angle with your fist facing down. Then turn your forearm up so that it’s parallel to the ground. To return to the starting position, turn your forearm down and straighten your elbow so it’s back to dangling toward the ground..

  • High-to-low rows — Wrap a resistance band around something sturdy that is at shoulder height, if not above. Bend down onto the knee that’s opposite your injured shoulder. If you’re not injured, your therapist will determine which knee to start with. Hold the band with the arm that is being worked on and pull your elbow toward your body. Keep your back straight and make sure that you’re squeezing your shoulder blades together. Repeat as directed by the physical therapist.

  • Reverse fly — Stand with your knees bent and shoulder width apart. Slightly bend forward at the waist but keep your back straight. Hold a dumbbell in each hand as you raise your arms to the side without straightening them. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and make sure that you don’t raise your arms past your shoulder height. Bring your arms down to a resting position. Repeat as directed by your therapist.

Rehab Access physical therapists can walk student-athletes through rotator cuff physical therapy exercises

For student-athletes, a strong and flexible rotator cuff is crucial to gameplay. It’s important to learn rotator cuff physical therapy exercises, both with and without an injury. That’s where we come in. 

Contact our team at Rehab Access Physical Therapy today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.