For a better understanding of the following post, please visit and review the Six Step Shoulder / Upper body exercise program.
Years ago I put together a shoulder exercise program that, very simply, was supposed to help almost any shoulder get stronger and move more comfortably. That was it. A simple program for hopefully a simple problem. What I did not see then was that shoulders are anything but simple. They are very unique joint complexes, where small changes can result in great pain, or in great pain relief.
Almost as soon as we implemented the Six Step program at our clinic we realized that it had effects much greater than just improving shoulder problems. We saw that it helped patients who had problems related to their neck, cervical rib, elbow, wrist, TMJ, mid back, and, really surprisingly, emphysema.
This article will focus on Six Shoulder Exercises for Rotator Cuff Tendonitis. For simplicity, this program will also help Shoulder Strains, Impingements, Bursitis, and Arthritis. Often, a single patient will have everyone of these conditions, all related to the exact same shoulder pain complaint.
Let me talk about the effects of this program on one of out athletes, I’ll call him ‘Juan’. Juan had a rotator cuff tendonitis. Juan had been having shoulder pain off and on for about a year. He was a pitcher for his middle school baseball team and got sore every time he pitched, or even threw a baseball. He had good shoulder range of motion. He had pretty good strength, and more important, strength testing was not painful. He had no changes in muscle tone or muscle spasm present. In short, his shoulder looked good. The only mildly unusual thing about Juan was that he had underdeveloped upper back muscles. This was especially apparent because Juan had a rounded shoulder, forward head, slouched posture. Juan could sit up straight and hold an upright posture when I asked him to, but within a few moments his slouch would return. This was a classic sign of upper back weakness.
I thought Juan’s upper back weakness was the cause of his shoulder pain. His weak upper back muscles led to poor postural alignment, and his poor posture led to abnormal shoulder mechanics, so when he threw a baseball, he irritated the soft tissues of his shoulder. This would be an example of a syndrome called ‘Chain Dysfunction’. A problem in one area, leads to a problem in another area. Often the problem area is pain free, but if you don’t fix the problem area, ‘the weak link in the chain’, the pain complaint in another area will keep coming back.
I gave Juan our Six Step Shoulder program. He started out with very light weights (2#) and did the program 25 times, twice a day. Juan committed to his exercise program. Within 2 weeks he progressed to using 4-6# hand weights (which is actually pretty speedy progress). He started to throw a ball at two weeks, mostly just playing long toss with his father. Before he threw Juan would use his Six Step program as his warm up. He threw long toss without any pain. After another week Juan returned to pitching, again with his father and again using his Six Step program as a warm up. Juan was able to pitch without pain, and quickly transitioned to playing baseball for his little league team.
After about a month we discharged Juan from PT. I never saw him again in our clinic, but I would see his father every once in awhile. Two years after his PT, Juan was still pitching without pain. He continued to use his Six Step program for general conditioning and as a warm up before baseball games.
Juan was one of the first athletes for whom we used the Six Step program, but his results have become typical. An athlete will have a vague, nonspecific painful shoulder. Their pain is worse with sports (baseball, volleyball, basketball, tennis) and better with rest. The athlete usually has weak upper back muscles and a slouched, rounded shoulder posture. The athletes who are able to do the program pain free (sometimes we have to modify the program to make it pain free) and who will commit to the program, 1-2 sets a day, 4-7 days a week, almost always returns to sports without further difficulty.
I hope you have enjoyed our post on Six Shoulder Exercises for Rotator Cuff Tendonitis. Please send me any questions or comments you may have so I can be sure I am helping you succeed. Thank-you.
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- One of the secrets of this program is light weights. Use a little as zero weight (0#) and no more than 5# for the true shoulder motions. For elbow curls, you can use a little more weight, but limit it to about 8#. Maximal weights are not important. Developing comfortable, smooth shoulder motion is what is important. (A funny thing about building strength in a rehabilitation program – if you can develop comfortable motion, you will automatically be stronger.)
- If you cannot do this program without pain, ask your doctor if you can see a PT who may be able to help you build comfort, mobility and strength.
- If you have had surgery on your shoulder, double check with your surgeon to make sure you do not have any restrictions from exercise.