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.
So what are the actions you do that utilize these muscles?
- Throwing a ball
- Picking anything up
- 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!
It’s been a theme recently that I’ve been working with a lot of people with disc issues. Serious disc issues. When you have a disc issue, it can cause pain, stiffness, even numbness and tingling. If you’ve experienced disc dysfunction, you know how agonizing and painful and relentless it really is.
A disc is the spongy donut, essentially, found between each vertebra. This provides not only a cushion between each spinal bone, but also a larger opening for your spinal cord nerves to come out and provide that neurological stimulation for your body. These discs are important and necessary. They also receive almost no blood. Blood is what keeps everything new, fresh, and healthy. Your discs pump water with the movements you do with your spine, so movement is insanely important for disc health.
Picture found on wikipedia
The construction of the vertebra-disc-vertebra has almost no horizontal movement for fear of the disc slipping. Two of the most common types of disc slippage are a bulge and a herniation. Each one of these cause tremendous amounts of pain, but not all require surgery.
Randy A. Shelerud, MD stated on WebMD:
“A bulging disk extends outside the space it should normally occupy. The bulge typically affects a large portion of the disk, so it may look a little like a hamburger that’s too big for its bun. The part of the disk that’s bulging is typically the tough outer layer of cartilage. Bulging usually is considered part of the normal aging process of the disk.
“A herniated disk, on the other hand, results when a crack in the tough outer layer of cartilage allows some of the softer inner cartilage to protrude out of the disk. Herniated disks are also called ruptured disks or slipped disks.”
While surgery for a bulging disc is rare, surgery for a herniation still isn’t 100%. Each of these have the ability to heal with regularalternative therapies, such as massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, and physical therapy. So many discs have the power to heal without surgery if just given the right opportunity. It takes consistency and a team of well trained professionals who are all working for the same goal.
Surgery is not the only answer for many herniations, but there is a time and place for it. Oftentimes, after a back surgery for a disc issue, many patients have to do the same physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic care anyway to gain the healing it needs. So unless your doctor really advises you otherwise, try alternative therapies first. I am not saying that if your doctor has suggested surgery to ignore it. Please do not read this and disregard what your doctor has said. It is important to listen to your doctor. Most importantly, have patience. It takes time to heal.
Massage really has a million benefits, but here is a quick list of 101 ways massage can and does improve lives every day.
1. Reduce Stress
2. Reduce Anxiety
3. Reduces depression
4. Can help to gain new perspectives by relaxing the mind which can help create new neuropathways
5. An escape from life / mini vacation
6. Helps you become more self-aware by knowing what is going on in your body
7. Increase mindfulness
8. Boost mental health and wellness
9. Increase vitality
11. Increases productivity
12. Can help increasing reaction time
13. Can increase alertness
14. Increase mental clarity
15. Improves posture
16. Increase range of motion
17. Decrease chronic pain
18. Decrease tension headaches and frequency of migraines
19. Hydrates and revitalizes skin
20. Reduce spasms and cramping
21. Keeps discs healthy
22. Decreases pressure on the joints
23. Decrease stiffness
24. Help manage carpal tunnel
25. Decrease jaw pain
26. Help manage chronic jaw issues
27. Ease sciatica
28. Reduce tender points
29. Increases metabolism
30. Reduces lactic acid build up
31. Lower Blood pressure
32. Reduce acute pain
33. Increase blood flow
34. Increases the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues
35. Can aid in elimination
36. Ease pain in stomach from food poisoning
37. Ease chronic symptoms for post-polio sufferers
38. Increases blood flow to organs, allowing them to function better
39. Early detection of skin cancer
40. Help ease pain in clients in hospice care
41. Help ease painful oncology treatments
42. Reduces nausea in chemotherapy patients
43. Decrease and in some cases eliminate scar tissue
44. Strengthens immune system
45. Decreases recovery time post-surgery
46. In some cases, prevent surgery for tendonitis
47. Help decrease pain for sufferers of plantar faciitis
48. Lessen the effects of rheumatoid or osteoarthritis
49. Decrease numbness or tingling in extremities
50. Decrease the pain associated with scoliosis, lordosis, or kyphosis
51. Aid in recovery from strains or sprains
52. Decrease the pain from upper crossed syndrome or thoracic outlet syndrome
53. Aid in sinus health
54. Decreases recovery from workouts
55. Decreases recovery time from an injury
56. Makes exercise easier
57. Helps with exercise gains
58. Reduce muscle tension
59. Help athletes monitor muscle tone
60. Promote relaxation
61. Reduce muscle hypertonicity
62. Improve soft tissue function
63. Support recovery from the transient immunosuppression state
64. Support the recovery of heart rate variability and diastolic blood pressure after high intensity exercise
65. Decrease muscle stiffness and fatigue after exercise
66. Improve exercise performance
67. Decrease DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
68. Reduce serum creatine kinase post exercise
69. Reduce swelling
70. Reduce irregular breathing patterns
71. Enhance athletic performance
72. May help prevent injuries when massage is received regularly
73. Is the most efficient self-care regiment tor maintaining maximal athletic performance
Sleep and breathing:
74. Improve sleep
75. Increase sleep hours
76. Improve quality of sleep
77. Overcome feelings of fatigue
78. Practice deep breathing
79. Practice breathing
Pregnancy / women’s health:
80. Decrease discomfort during pregnancy
81. Assist in shorter, easier labor for expecting mothers
82. Decrease bloating, cramping, mood swings, and other PMS related symptoms
83. Balance hormones
84. Decrease urninary CRF-LI (a biochemical marker of stress-related symptoms
85. Decrease cortisol levels
86. Releases endorphines
Infants (Results of a case study):
88. Pre-term infants gained more weight with just 5 days of massage
89. Massage therapy by mothers in perinatal period serves as a strong time cue, enhancing coordination of the developing circadian system with environmental cues.
90. Over the 6-week period, the massage therapy infants gained more weight, showed greater improvement on emotionally, sociability, and soothability temperament dimensions and had greater decreases in urinary stress catecholamines/hormones (norepinepherine, epinephrine, cortisol).
91. Infants receiving massage showed fewer sleep delay behaviors and had a shorter latency to sleep onset by the end of the study
92. Massage may have a stress reducing effect on pre-term infants in the NICU.
93. Reduction of illness and diarrheal episodes in orphaned children in Ecuador
94. Decrease use of analgesics
95. Ease medication dependence
96. Great place to start for making changes
97. Improve health status
98. Improve quality of life
99. Work well in an integrative treatment plan
100. Increase the improvement when paired with other alternative health regiments (chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy, and more)
101. Valuable component of your wellness program
- Drink water before AND after your massage
- Ice sore muscles (you can do this before and after as well)
- Be present for your treatment–leave your troubles behind
- Try not to drink alcohol after your massage
- Eat wholesome foods
- Take what your therapist suggests to heart
- Take off as much jewelry you can
- Silence your cellphone
- Most importantly: communicate