Your rotator cuff, also known as the rotary cup (just kidding, please don’t call it that), is a group of four muscles that help stabilize the shoulder joint.
- Teres Minor
These muscles are considered “deep” muscles because they are found under the trapezius and the posterior and middle deltoids. The teres minor is crossed by one of the heads of the triceps.
These four buddies find their origins on the scapula and insert on the humerus. Origins for muscles are typically found on the bone that is stationary and the insertion points are on the bones that are moving.
What actions does the rotator cuff perform?
The actions these muscles perform is internal rotation of the humerus like the motion uses to swing a tennis racket, external rotation of the humerus like rearing back to smack someone, and the beginnings of shoulder abduction like flapping your arms like wings.
If these muscles are spasmed or underactive, they can cause pain and possible decreased mobility.
Injured and out of commission
Common injuries to these muscles, resulting in shoulder pain, include rotator cuff tears, rotator cuff tendinitis, and impingement syndrome. Injuries can prevent us from doing the things we love, reduce our use of the injured body part, and even cause depression.
An injury to the rotator cuff is usually caused by overuse and repetitive motions, such as throwing a baseball. It can also be injured during a fall or an auto accident. The younger crowd may experience overuse and/or injury because of the sports they play. Though the older we become the muscles can experience muscle degeneration.
Repetitive use of the rotator cuff muscles can increase your chances of a rotator cuff tear or injury. These tears occur in the tendon or the muscle.
Common symptoms of a rotator cuff tear are:
- pain at the time of injury
- pain at night
- weakness in the injured muscle
- a stiff shoulder
- increased pain with overhead activities
Make them strong to prevent injury
Think about how often you use your shoulder. It’s almost a silly thing to have to think about because of how often we use them. I’m not sure, barring those missing the limb, you could go a full hour without using it in one way or another.
Now imagine not having use of that body part. Forget blow drying your hair, brushing your teeth, stirring food, driving a car….I could go on and on. Much like other health issues, we want to do our best to prevent it from happening to us.
Accidents happen and perhaps you can’t completely control the cars around you or if you trip over a stone and fall, but we can strengthen those muscles to help prevent injury or help us recover quickly.
The best way to prevent an injury that could put your much-needed shoulder out of commission is exercising those muscles in the plane they work in.
However, if you are currently in pain or injured, please consult your physician before performing exercises.
Internal and External Rotation
Perform internal and external rotation using affordable equipment found at sporting goods stores or on Amazon here.
If you’re going to the gym, raise the cable machine head to the height of your elbow. Lower the weight to one pound or less if possible to start out with. Grab the line and perform the exercise as seen above.
This exercise uses very expensive equipment- a towel. Roll a towel up and place it between your elbow and a wall, press your elbow into the wall and hold for a count of ten. This is an isometric exercise which means you are working the muscle by performing a sustained hold.
Scapular stabilization for safe rotator cuff use
Another important aspect often overlooked when talking about the rotator cuff is scapular stabilization. If the bone that all of the rc muscles attach to is not stable itself, how can we expect to avoid injury?
The scapula is the keystone to the upper quarter of the body. Without a stable scapula, the rotator cuff muscles will become overworked, spasmed, and lead to injury.
To stabilize our scapula, we want to activate the rhomboids, the trapezius, and the antagonist to those muscles, the pectoralis minor. The strength here will add to scapulothoracic movement control.
If you think you have a rotator cuff injury, consult your physician.
A minor tear can heal with ice, anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. Major or complete tears may need surgery. After surgery, your surgical arm will be kept immobile for two weeks and you are encouraged to refrain from driving for 6 to 8 weeks. That’s a long time to not drive!
Physical therapy for a rotator cuff repair can also take 6 to 8 weeks, coming twice a week.
Surgery and physical therapy can be a burden financially, so avoid injury by getting stronger! But if you do get injured, give us a call. We love helping people recover from their pain and regain their mobility.
As a hands-on clinic, our patients have one-to-one treatments that include manual therapy at every session.