What is the rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff refers to a group of 4 muscles (and tendons) located in the shoulder complex. These muscles include the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These muscles all originate from the scapula (shoulder blade) and insert onto the humerus (long bone in upper arm).
So why is it important to strengthen the rotator cuff?
Rotator cuff tears and injuries are among the most common causes of shoulder pain and disability. The rotator cuff is not only integral in shoulder stabilisation but is also involved in numerus movements of the arm including flexion, abduction, internal and external rotation. As the rotator cuff is involved in controlling so many movements of the arm it is obvious that dysfunction or injury of these muscles can significantly impact functional capacity and quality of life.
Injury to the rotator cuff may arise from an acute injury or trauma such as a fall or may be caused by overuse particularly in repeated overhead activities. Furthermore, poor shoulder biomechanics and posture may accelerate degeneration and increase likelihood of injury.
Common symptoms of rotator cuff injury may include:
- Severe pain at time of injury
- Pain when lying on affected side
- Pain during overhead activities
- Weakness of involved shoulder
- Stiffness in shoulder
So how can exercise help?
Most rotator cuff injuries and tears respond very well to conservative management including exercise and rarely require surgery. Exercise can assist in both rehabilitation following an injury to the rotator cuff and pre-habilitation by strengthening the rotator cuff to avoid/prevent injury. Loss of muscle mass and elasticity is a normal age-related process which may increase the likelihood of injury to the rotator cuff. Resistance and mobility exercise can assist in rebuilding the strength and function of the rotator cuff. Strengthening the rotator cuff will assist in centring the humerus in the shoulder joint and ultimately reduce the stress placed on the structures in surrounding the shoulder.
Some simple exercises for the rotator cuff include:
- Resistance band Internal rotation
- Resistance band external rotation
- Shoulder pendulums
- I’s, Y’s, T’s and W’s
As always if you would like further information regarding safe and effective exercise speak with an accredited exercise physiologist.