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Can I Row with a Rotator Cuff Injury?

So you’ve been feeling a little ache in your shoulder, and reaching behind your back makes your arm feel weak. You exercise regularly so what the heck is going on?

can i use a rowing machine with a rotator cuff injury

You may have a rotator cuff injury. This type of trauma or tear is extremely common, contrary to what many of us realize. In fact, many of those affected by this condition can manage their daily tasks. They simply deal with the pain while performing exercises that will strengthen the muscles around the shoulder. Surgery is not very common but is sometimes required.

What is a rotator cuff and how did you injure it?

More importantly, you’re probably asking yourself, “Can I still row with a torn rotator?”

Today, I want to talk about this shoulder problem, what you can do about it, and how this might affect your rowing habits.

Please remember that I am not a doctor, and this is not to be considered medical advice. If you have any doubts or questions, please speak with your primary care physician or an orthopaedic specialist.

What Is a Rotator Cuff Injury?

rotator cuff injury location on the body

A rotator cuff is a group of tendons and connective tissues surrounding the shoulder joint. This muscle group keeps the head of the arm bone inside the shallow socket of the shoulder.

Although you can injure it from a fall or other type of accident, the most common cause of a torn rotator is repetitive motions at the chest level or above (such as the work that painters or carpenters do) or simply from age.

Do Rotator Cuff Injuries Cause Shoulder Pain?

For most patients with this orthopaedic condition, they experience a dull ache near the top of the shoulder joint where the arm meets the shoulder. You may notice a weakness in the arm when trying to use it for simple things (learn more on does rowing build biceps ), such as brushing your hair or putting on a hat.

Can You Make a Shoulder Rotator Cuff Injury Worse?

man with rotator cuff pain from exercise

Yes, you can.

In many instances, the muscle is simply inflamed. However, if you ignore the problem, a tendon can tear, which would mean you might find that you can’t use your arms for anything above the waist.

What Should You NOT Do with a Rotator Cuff Injury?

There are a few things you should avoid to prevent aggravating a torn rotator, including:

  • Any activity with overhead movements, such as swimming
  • Throwing a ball overhead, especially a very heavy ball
  • Lifting weights that place stress on the shoulders,
  • Tricep dips or bench dips
  • Avoid sports that involves throwing, such as football or baseball

Rowing is often a safe bet, but if you feel pain while rowing or worse after rowing, you need to see your doctor right away.

man doing knee workout in a rowing machine

Is Rowing Good for Rotator Cuff Injury?

I’m not a doctor, so please take this advice and apply it with common sense.

If you can row without pain, yes, by all means, continue rowing. Some people find that the movement of rowing reduces their pain.

ladies rowing correctly to prevent rotator cuff injury

A majority of rowers find that taking a few weeks off from rowing while performing strengthening and stretching exercises of the shoulder muscles is all they need to recover from their injuries, get back in the game, and start rowing again.

It is always best to consult with your physical therapist or orthopaedic doctor if you still experience pain after a few weeks of rest and shoulder exercises.

If you have orthopaedic injuries related to a fall or other type of accident and your doctor has told you not to row, then please follow your doctor’s advice to prevent further damage to your shoulder.

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Does Rowing Wear Out the Shoulder Blade?

Like most exercise machines, if you fail to allow your body to rest (such as rowing every single day) or if you do not perform the strokes with the proper technique, you can injure your rotator but not necessarily to the shoulder blade itself.

man lifting weight correctly to prevent injury to rotator cuff - upright row alternative

Shoulder blades are made from bones so rowing won’t harm the bone, but you might damage the muscles and connective tissue supporting the shoulder blade and socket.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do I know if my rotator cuff is torn or strained?

Most patients with these types of injuries experience the following:

  • Pain at night, especially when lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain when lifting, especially above the waist
  • Weakness in the arms when lifting or rotating the arms
  • A cracking or crunching sensation in the shoulder in certain positions

Q: Will a rotator cuff heal on its own?

A: In most cases, yes. Time spent resting the shoulder (not doing the repetitive motion that caused the problem) will heal most cases of inflammation. Strength training and rehab exercises will prevent future problems. If the tendon has been torn, however, surgery may be required for some patients.

Q: How can I make my rotator cuff heal faster?

A: Some of the following tips can help to heal an inflamed or irritated rotator:

  1. Take natural anti-inflammatory substances, such as blueberries, curcumin, and green tea.
  2. Do strengthening exercises and stretching exercises to relieve pressure and make the supporting muscles stronger.
  3. Avoid sleeping on the affected shoulder.
  4. Apply ice to the affected area to reduce swelling, pain, and inflammation.
  5. Avoid any movement that causes you more pain.

Q: What exercise is good for rotator cuff injury?

A: There are several exercises that can help rehab your rotator cuff and make it stronger to prevent future occurrences, such as these:

  • Simple doorway stretch
  • External rotation lying on your site
  • High-to-low rows
  • Lawn Mower Pull – 3 Sets of 10
  • Reverse fly – 3 Sets of 10

Be sure to do these exercises several times a week for faster healing and recovery.

Q: How can I strengthen my rotator cuff?

A: Strengthening the muscles in and around the shoulder socket is so important. There are some very easy exercises that can prevent future injuries and you can see those exercises here.

Q: Can I still workout with rotator cuff injury?

A: Yes, but with some restrictions. Avoid sports where you must throw a ball, such as baseball or football, avoid anything where you must lift overhead, and avoid exercises that place a lot of stress on the shoulders, such as bench dips.