What is the Rotator Cuff?
By: Jessica Hess, M.Ed., ATC
What is the Rotator Cuff? The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that originates on your scapula, or shoulder blade, and inser and inserts on your humerus, the bone in the upper arm. There are four main muscles that comprise the rotator cuff. They include: the teres minor, infraspinatus, supraspinatius, and subscapularis.
These four muscles are primarily used for internal and external rotation of your upper arm and are used to stabilize your arm in the shoulder joint. An injury to the rotator cuff can be detrimental to ones athletic career and effect daily activities if not treated properly.
Some Injuries to the Rotator Cuff
One injury to the rotator cuff is impingement. This is due to repetitive overhead motion, such as pitching in baseball or spiking in volleyball. Impingement of the rotator cuff results in pain when internally and externally rotating the arm. Any movement with the arm overhead will also present pain.
A more severe injury is a rotator cuff tear. This occurs when the musculature suffers tearing of the muscle fibers. A rotator cuff tear can happen over time, which may be the effect of chronic impingement or weakening of the rotator cuff tendons due to aging, or may be an acute injury after some type of trauma resulting from dynamic overloading of the tendon. A single traumatic episode may cause the finale rupture of a weakened tendon. Again, pain will be present with overhead motions, as well as with abduction, internal and external rotation. It may also be difficult and painful to raise arm out to front of the body.
Treatment of Rotator Cuff Injuries
Depending on the severity of the rotator cuff injury, there are a variety of options regarding treatment. Initially, a physician may suggest physical therapy, such as strengthening exercises focusing on shoulder musculature, control of the scapula or shoulder blade and rest. If the injury is more severe or current treatments have failed, surgery may be needed.
One specific type of surgery that a patient may undergo is debridment of the subacromial space. The subacromial space is the space where the tendons of the four muscles come into the shoulder joint. This surgery focuses on increasing the space to free any impingement that may be there. If a tear is present, a surgeon may fix the tear to the tendon.
A physicians’ guidance is very important with it comes to rotator cuff pathologies. It is necessary for one to listen to their bodies and if pain is present a physicians’ guidance is very crucial. With proper treatment a patient suffering from a rotator cuff injury can return to full active participation.