The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis) surrounding the shoulder joint that function together to increase the stability of the shoulder to help it track properly to avoid impingement or bursitis. In effect these muscles and tendons help keep the head of your upper arm within your shoulder socket.
Since the shoulder girdle is a joint meant to have lots of mobility, stability is often compromised so these muscles become very important in maintaining the congruency of the joint. Without these rotator cuff muscles your body would have to rely more on passive structures (ligaments and the joint capsule) which can make them more susceptible to injury.
The rotator cuff also assists with shoulder rotation, which is necessary in activities such as throwing, reaching, washing your hair, etc. Without the ability to rotate the shoulder we would have to use other muscles to compensate, which will cause them to fatigue early on.
Rotator cuff injuries are usually seen in people who engage in repetitive overhead motion. Although the injury is most commonly associated with sports such as baseball or tennis it is also seen in tradespeople that work over their heads. This injury becomes more likely with age.
Common injuries that can occur with weakness of the rotator cuff include shoulder dislocations, labral tears, impingement syndromes, or bursitis.
Symptoms associated with the injury often appears as:
- An ache in the shoulder
- Pain sleeping on the affected shoulder
- Pain or difficulty reaching behind your back
- Pain when raising or lowering the arm
- Weakness in the arm
Treatment And Prevention
Many people are familiar with shoulder surgery baseball pitchers undergo for rotator cuff injuries. Depending on the particular structure(s) involved and the length of time the injury has been developing, treatment can range from rest and physiotherapy to surgery in the most severe cases.
Whether you’ve had a rotator cuff injury or may simply be at risk for one, there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk. Shoulder stretches and strengthening exercises can help, with particular attention being paid to the muscles in the back of the shoulder and around the shoulder blade.
How Apex Can Help
If you have been diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury that does not require surgery or have experienced the symptoms described here, Apex can help. Our trained therapists can help run you through range of motion exercises to isolate the cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan.