What Rotator Cuff Exercises with a Rolled Up Towel?

Why to do Rotator Cuff Exercise with a Towel

I will chat about rotator cuff exercises today and why/when/how to use a towel when performing rotator cuff exercises.

When working in a large rehabilitation center, I worked with various physical therapists. They all had different ideas on exercises for the rotator cuff. Most of them would not support the elbow when performing rotator cuff exercises, but the odd one would.

Rotator Cuff External Rotation Exercise Set Up

How I  set up a client for the rotator cuff, external rotation exercise would be to have the client stand with feet hip-width apart and toes pointing forward. To prevent any trunk rotation, they would activate the core. The upper arm would be at the side, and the elbow bent to 90 degrees. Somebody would adjust the pulley or tubing, so it was parallel to the floor. The exercise’s focus would be external shoulder rotation from 0 degrees to maximum. 

rotator cuff injury stretch

For some clients, I would be asked to roll up a towel and place it under their elbow, with the towel between the upper arm and body. It would bring the arm out about 20 degrees away from the body.

I had asked many physical therapists why they should support the elbow with a towel. None of them had a good answer on why.

When I completed my master’s degree in rotator cuff exercises, I found a research article discussing why to support the elbow. Let me share with you what it said.

Supporting the arm decreases the stretch on the supraspinatus muscle, the most frequently injured muscle of the rotator cuff. If your client has their arm at their side and the rotator cuff’s injured, what ends up happening is your client gets a stretch through the supraspinatus.

If you put a towel underneath the arm, this will decrease or eliminate the stretch that is on the supraspinatus.

Why / How / When To Use a Towel During Rotator Cuff Exercises

 CLICK HERE for Rotator Cuff Exercises with a Towel

When to Use the Towel for Rotator Cuff Exercises

  1. To sum it up, I will get my clients to use the towel if they are in the early stages of recovery regarding a rotator cuff injury, especially if the supraspinatus is involved.
  2. If the client reports discomfort in the shoulder and specifically in the deltoid area when getting into the starting position of the external rotation exercise, I would put a towel under the elbow.

I hope this post has helped you with why, when, and how to use a towel for your clients recovering from rotator cuff injuries. Make sure you try this out with your next client, and let me know how it goes.

If you missed it, I chatted about the lateral raise rotator cuff exercise yesterday.   Make sure you check out that post. Click here to read it.

Rick Kaselj, MS

Effective Rotator Cuff Exercises