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Rotator Cuff Stuff

The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles in your shoulder that rotates your humerus: the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Subscapularis, and Teres Minor. This muscle group is essential to healthy shoulder range of motion. You also have ther muscles that help move and stabilize the shoulder: deltoid, teres major, corachobrachialis, latissimus dorsi, and pectoralis major, but we aren’t focusing on those.

In an article by Massage Today, Joel Schwartz, DC states 5 interesting facts about the rotator cuff:

  • Despite their small size, these muscles provide the primary means of stability to your shoulder joint. They are working hard with any movement your arm makes.
  • These muscles are inadequately strengthened by most fitness and sports exercise regimens, thus they are not properly conditioned.
  • Most of us lack coordination in the joints of our shoulder, neck and upper back region as a result of poor posture and repetitive motions. This results in a continual friction and abrasion to the rotator cuff muscles and tendons.
  • Previous shoulder injuries treated only with rest and medication were not properly rehabilitated and are prone to re-injury until properly conditioned by corrective exercise and deep massage.
  • The blood supply to the rotator cuff muscles starts to atrophy somewhat in people over the age of 40.
    rotator cuff

So what are the actions you do that utilize these muscles?

  • Throwing a ball
  • Picking anything up
  • Driving
  • Pushing a grocery cart
  • Carrying anything
  • Washing dishes
  • Taking a shower
  • Any shoulder exercise
  • So much more….

We use our rotator cuff every day! It’s been my experience that the rotator cuff can be a huge culprit in your shoulder pain. When your rotator cuff muscles are tense, they pull on everything else in you shoulders, which then radiates pressure and pain throughout the rest of the shoulder girdle. Rotator cuff pain can radiate between your shoulders and even down your arm, depending on which of these muscles is the main culprit.

Because of how often we use these muscles, they are very prone to injuries. The three most common types of injuries for the rotator cuff are an impingement, a tear, or overuse / tendonitis. The Mayo Clinic has a great video and further explanation of the main injuries. Each of these injuries can benefit from massage.

Impinging on a joint prohibits and limits the abilities and range of motion of the joint. Movement is life, so you can see where an impingement might be a problem. Limited range of motion is a breeding ground for tension and muscular dysfunction. Muscles tighten up and can’t loosen, which then pulls the joint closer together. You do not need your joints closer together! Impinging on the joint can cause a lack of blood flow, can put pressure on your nerves which would eventually cause nerve damage, or just rub your bones together too much and cause more joint issues that eventually would need surgery.

A tear cannot be fixed with massage, so don’t think that’s what we’re saying; however, with a tear comes tension in the muscle to compensate. By reducing the tension, the effects of the tear might not be quite as bad. A tear can happen in the muscle or in the tendon. A tendon tear is much worse–it takes longer to heal.

Massage Today also has a great article that outlines tendonitis and how it affects you. It also talks about how tendonitis isn’t always what’s going on with that tendon. It says, “… most tendinitis complaints have been found to be devoid of inflammatory cells. … The main problem in these overuse tendon disorders appears to be collagen degeneration from overuse. It has also been suggested that this would explain the frequent lack of success in treating tendinitis complaints with anti-inflammatory medication. Numerous authors and clinicians have suggested that the term “tendinosis” (literally meaning “pathology of the tendon”) is a much more appropriate term than “tendonitis,” which specifically indicates inflammation.” If you have been dealing with any kind of tendonitis and it still give you problems, try out massage to help with it. You’d be surprised at what we can do.

With any rotator cuff issue, Dr. Joel Schwartz, DC stated at the end of the Massage Today article how to correct rotator cuff issues:

  • Use neuromuscular and myofascial techniques to treat adhesions and trigger points in the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff. (See a Licensed Massage Therapist for these techniques.)
  • When these muscles and tendons are free of adhesions and trigger points, they will be stronger and function much better in their important job of stabilizing the shoulder joint. They also will not be a source of pain.
  • Learn techniques to increase the flexibility of the shoulder joint capsule itself.
  • Comprehensively strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and also the key scapular stabilizers such as the lower and middle trapezius, the rhomboids and the serratus anterior. Strengthening the scapular stabilizers will prevent a secondary impingement, which results from a lack of the control of the scapula as it glides along the chest wall.

Keeping your rotator cuff healthy can prevent so much pain and so many possible injuries. These are smaller muscles, yes. But they are so important!