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What Is the Rotator Cuff?

According to the Mayo Clinic, a rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles and their tendons that surround the shoulder joint. Their job is to not only connect the upper arm bone (the humorous) to the shoulder blade but to keep this shoulder joint stable. 

Using your shoulder for everyday activities seems simple, but your rotator cuff does a lot of that work for you. It’s the reason you can move your arms overhead to get something off a large shelf, dress and groom yourself, and play sports such as tennis, baseball, and swimming. 

Rotator Cuff Injuries

Because your rotator cuff is an integral part of your anatomy that is used every day, injuries are not uncommon under certain circumstances. Injuries to your rotator cuff can include:

  • Partial or complete tears
  • Tendonitis

The main symptom you will notice first with a rotator cuff injury is pain. If you have an injury, you will experience pain:

  • When sleeping at night, especially if lying on the affected shoulder
  • When raising and lowering your arm 
  • With specific movements such as combing your hair or reaching behind you

You may also experience arm weakness when lifting or rotating your arm and it may limit your range of motion. 

Rotator Cuff Tears

A tear is a rip in the four muscles and tendons that make up your rotator cuff. You could have a partial tear, which affects just one of the muscles, or a complete tear that goes all the way through the tendon and pulls the tendon off of your upper arm bone. 

Rotator cuff tear injuries are found in about 22.1% of the general population. They are especially common among athletes and people whose jobs require them to repeat the same arm motions over and over. That can include baseball players, swimmers, painters, and window cleaners. 

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis

Also known as impingement syndrome, rotator cuff tendonitis is an irritation or inflammation of the tendons that make up the rotator cuff. Unlike a tear that can happen suddenly, tendonitis is usually a condition that occurs over time. 

This could be the result of things such as your shoulder being in one position for a long period of time, sleeping on the same shoulder every night, or activities that require the repetitive motion of lifting your arm over your head. 

Rotator Cuff Tendonitis is also common among certain types of athletes. The repetitive motion needed to play the sport is why it’s often referred to as pitcher’s shoulder, swimmer’s shoulder, or tennis shoulder. 

How Physical Therapy Can Help Rotator Cuff Injuries

When you hear the word “tear” you might immediately think that treatment is going to be invasive with a long recovery time. However, physical therapy is often the starting point for a rotator cuff injury unless it is severe. With techniques such as exercise, ice, heat, massage, and specialized equipment, physical therapy will help you regain strength and improve your range of motion. 

Your first visit will include an evaluation of your rotator cuff and range of motion. Your therapist will then create a customized plan to help alleviate your pain, improve your strength, and improve your function. They can also help you with exercises that will strengthen the area to prevent reinjury in the future. 

If you have been experiencing shoulder pain and you think you have a rotator cuff injury, contact one of the professionals at South Orange Rehabilitation and Wellness. We specialize in evaluating and treating all rotator cuff injuries and more. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you feel better.