Rotator Cuff Injury - What is it?

The rotator cuff are a group of four small muscles that wrap around the shoulder joint, ensuring that the ball of the arm bone, the humerus, stays central in the joint, the glenoid. The shoulder joint has to move through a huge range of movement to allow us to place our hand wherever we need to. The joint relies on these rotator cuff muscles to keep the ball in the shoulder socket while we do these movements.

Poor movement patterns and/or poor postural alignment can cause an impinging or squashing of one or more of the rotator cuff tendons, resulting in pain and injury. Stress to the tendons can occur from pressure of the ball of the humerus (the ball at the top of the arm forming the shoulder joint) pushing up into the tendons. This happens with carrying bags by your side. The weight pulls the tendon down over the bone – try instead to carry lighter weights and not too far. Resting with weight on your arm, for example on the window ledge when driving or on your elbows when reading or watching TV has the same affect – avoid putting pressure on the arms.

Sleeping can have a similar effect: When you lie on the arm you squash the tendon and when you lie on your side or back the ball of the shoulder can be pushed into the tendon. Try not to lie on the affected side and if on your back or other side, use a pillow between the arm and body. Hitching your shoulders up in the cold or due to stress pulls the ball of the humerus up into the tendons – wrap up warm at this time of year and take time to relax the shoulders if you are tense.

Tendons also can be aggravated by too much tensile stress. This is using the arm to do tasks that are too heavy and stressful for the tendon. The tendons are particularly at risk when reaching overhead or reaching out away from your side. Take care when doing these tasks or build up slowly with specific exercises. To ensure recovery, a rotator cuff strengthening program is important. But most importantly the bad alignment of the joint due to poor posture and poor movement control must be assessed and corrected. This may be as simple as correcting poor postural positions, changing your desk set up at work, not leaning on your elbows, or changing the position you sleep in. Only then will the impingement stop and complete recovery be ensured.

Our physio’s at PhysioLogix are happy to discuss any questions you may have. Email or call us on (07) 3511 1112