Rotator Cuff Pain or Tear – What Should You Do?

Navigating the Complexities of Rotator Cuff Pain

Welcome to a deep dive into the intricate world of shoulder pain, where rotator cuff related pain is one of the most common complaints.

But what exactly is the ‘rotator cuff’?

The rotator cuff is a collection of muscles that help with stability and overall function of the shoulder joint.

Patients will typically start to develop symptoms in the shoulder when rotator cuff muscles don’t have the strength to tolerate the demands we are asking of them. For example, a big weekend of gardening or increasing weights in the gym after a period of time off.

Typically, the symptoms associated with rotator cuff pain are;

  • Pain with reaching overhead
  • An ‘impingement arc’ which is pain when taking the arm out to the side at 90degrees, which then improves as you lift the arm higher
  • Pain with lying on the affected shoulder

Do I need to stop training for my shoulder pain to get better?

Most likely, you do not need to stop training for your pain to get better. Instead, you can modify your training, so that you have minimal pain during and afterwards. To be able to continue training, read on a bit further for some strategies.

I’ve been told that I need rest for my shoulder pain. Is this true?

Not really, no. A period of ‘relative rest’ may be helpful, but when you rest completely, the muscles of the shoulder become deconditioned and weaker, meaning that they can tolerate less load. This is obviously true in the absence of anything sinister, which your physio can help diagnose.

What can I do about my pain?

Initially, the goal is to modify your training to a tolerable level. This might include strategies such as;


  • Modifying bench press width, reducing the range of motion, or using different angles such as an incline press
  • Reducing the weight on the bar
  • Reducing the number of sets

Activities of daily living:

  • Stepping on a ladder when painting so that you don’t need to reach as high
  • Using the other arm to support the painful side while writing on the whiteboard

Now that my symptoms are tolerable, what do I do next?

Our goal is to increase the capacity of the muscles to be able to tolerate more load. This usually involves exercises that make the shoulder stronger, for example

  1. Shrugs
  2. Supported Shoulder External Rotation
  3. Weight bearing shoulder rotation 

We also want to target other areas that might be contributing to the pain, such as restricted range of motion in the mid-back. Exercises that might be helpful here are;

  1. Thoracic extension on a bench
  2. Thoracic rotation on the forearm

If you have tried the above strategies but are still experiencing pain, please do not hesitate to reach out!

If none of these strategies have allowed you to continue your training, or if you have any further questions, click here to book a physio assessment, or email us at to get more information.

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