Rotator Cuff Problems and the Link to Shoulder Pain

Rotator cuff problems are often implicated in shoulder pain.  While almost everyone has heard of these important shoulder muscles few people have an understanding of what these muscles do and why they are so important to the shoulder.

In this article I will provide a brief review of the rotator cuff muscles, including….

  • where the rotator cuff muscles are and what they do
  • why these muscles are so commonly injured
  • the best treatments and exercises for improving rotator cuff problems


Basic Anatomy of the Rotator Cuff

The shoulder is classified as a ball-and-socket joint. It consists of the the round surface of the upper arm fitting into the concave surface of the shoulder blade.

However, unlike the hip joint (the other ball-and-socket joint of the body) the concave surface of the shoulder blade is not very deep.  As a result the round head of the upper arm will have a tendency to slide within the socket as the arm moves.

To prevent this sliding – which can damage the ligaments around the shoulder joint – the body relies of a specialized set of muscles to hold the upper arm centered within the socket… the rotator cuff.

In fact, the location and orientation rotator cuff muscles actually pulls the round head of the upper arm tight against the socket on the shoulder blade.  This keeps the round head of the upper arm held tight in the socket, preventing it from rolling or sliding out of the socket during arm movements.


rotator cuff problems - line of action

The rotator cuff is responsible for holding the round surface of the upper arm tight against the socket of the shoulder blade.



Rotator Cuff Injury

The problem is that these rotator cuff muscles are relatively small and have to work hard to control and stabilize the shoulder with even basic activities that involve lifting, pushing, pulling, or reaching with the arm.

The demand on these muscles is even greater with physically demanding jobs or athletic activities such as swimming, weight lifting, or throwing sports. Over time one or more of these rotator cuff muscles can become strained, which over time  can develop into small scale tissue damage known as micro-trauma.

This repetitive strain injury cycle can continue and build up into more painful rotator cuff problems such as muscles strains, tears, or tendinitis.

A further consequence of these rotator cuff problems results from the inability of the rotator cuff to properly stabilize the shoulder during arm movements. Instead of being held tight in the socket the motion becomes sloppy, and the upper arm will shift and slide too much in the socket. This will often cause the upper arm to become pinched during arm movements – a common condition known as shoulder impingement.


rotator cuff problems - impingement

If the upper arm is not held tightly against the shoulder blade the arm will slide within the socket and become pinched in the joint.




Treatment of Rotator Cuff Problems

Fortunately, most rotator cuff problems do respond well to the right type of conservative treatment.

We have found the best way to treat these conditions is with a combination of Active Release Techniques (or ART for short), along with specific home exercises to improve strength and control of the rotator cuff muscles.

I have discussed Active Release Techniques in depth in other articles and other areas of our website, but for the sake of being inclusive I will provide a brief description here as well.


What is ART

ARTPurplelogoActive Release is a hands-on treatment method to address problems in the soft tissues of the body, including the muscles, ligaments, fascia, and nerves.  What makes ART different from other treatments is that it is specifically designed to identify and treat scar tissue adhesions that build up and compromise muscle strength and flexibility.

These scar tissue adhesions represent new connective tissue that forms in and around the rotator cuff muscles after damage and microtrauma. It is the bodies attempt to heal and stabilize the damaged muscle fibers.  However, these adhesions will also make the muscles tight and weak.  As a result they need to be released to get the rotator cuff muscles healthy again.

ART takes a long time to master and after years of practice ART docs are able to develop a very acute sense of touch and feel.  This not only helps us to know exactly which muscles are the problem, but also helps improve treatment results by allowing us to be very specific with treatment.

This is something that cannot be done with other treatment methods or with stretching or exercises which target the shoulder muscles or or nerves in a more generalized fashion.

As the adhesions are released with ART treatment specialize shoulder exercises can then be used to strengthen the rotator cuff muscles and stabilize the shoulder joint.




How Long Does It Take to Resolve Rotator Cuff Problems?

One of the best things about ART is how quickly results are felt. In our experience the majority of rotator cuff problems respond very well to ART treatment, especially when combined with the appropriate home exercises.

Although each case is unique and there are several factors that will determine the length of time it will require to fully resolve a condition, we usually find a significant improvement can be gained in just 3-4 treatments.


Get Relief From Rotator Cuff Problems

To learn more, or to book an initial appointment to see if ART may be able to help with your rotator cuff problem foot pain simply call our office at (905) 685-7227.

For general questions you can either call our office or send us an email at – one of our ART certified doctors will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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