At some point in time, chances are good that you will experience discomfort in your shoulder. It is usually then that people are acquainted with the rotator cuff muscles and tendons. The rotator cuff plays an important role in the normal function of the shoulder, and is one of the structures which are commonly implicated in shoulder pathology.
The four muscles that comprise the rotator cuff originate on the scapulae (shoulder blade) and insert through a common tendon to the humerus (long arm bone.) This group of muscles and tendons cross a ball and socket joint commonly thought of as the shoulder joint. Above the rotator cuff is an arch comprised of bone and ligaments which help to protect the cuff from impact injury. There is a bursae in between the cuff and the arch which allows for a smooth passage of the tendon during shoulder movements.
The role of the rotator cuff muscles is to work in conjunction with other shoulder muscles to move the humerus for activity of the arm including pushing, pulling, and reaching. It also plays a role in keeping the ball centered in the socket at the shoulder joint. A healthy cuff will prevent an upward rise of the humerus (ball joint) into the protective arch.
The rotator cuff tendon can be injured from direct trauma such as a car accident or a fall onto the shoulder. It can also be injured through an overload stress such as lifting something too heavy or throwing a ball too hard. The tendon, like most other body parts will degenerate over time with repetitive use. This degeneration eventually leads to fraying and possible tearing of the tendon without any specific trauma.
Maintaining rotator cuff strength, coordination and flexibility are important for the health of the shoulder joint. After injury, cuff exercise helps to prevent secondary trauma and degeneration. Consult with your physician about specific exercise for care of the rotator cuff.
Written by: Steven L. Bernstein PT,OMT