The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in the body, allowing us to reach out and grab an object and place it almost anywhere. This is all possible because of our rotator cuff muscles, which are always active during arm movements to keep the ball of the shoulder in the socket. It is no surprise then that the rotator cuff is subject to overuse and injuries are commonplace in the physiotherapy clinic.
The rotator cuff is made up of 4 small but important muscles which play a key role in the stability of the shoulder. These are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor muscles. More often than not, it is the supraspinatus that is at fault however any one of these muscles can be injured either in isolation or in conjunction with one another.
While injury can occur from an acute incident, such as falling onto an outstretched arm, it is more likely to be caused from repetitive overload of the shoulder musculature and come on gradually. Due to this fact, these conditions usually affect people over the age of 35, however they are also quite common in the sporting population, especially “overhead athletes” such as swimmers, throwers and those involved in racquet sports.
Common complaints are:
- Pain when moving the arm out to the side
- Difficulty sleeping on the injured side
- Difficulty doing overhead activities, such as hanging out the washing, putting things away on the top shelf
- Dull ache in shoulder after activity
Several things can predispose a person to a rotator cuff disorder, however the most common cause is impingement of the rotator cuff due to abnormal scapulo-humeral rhythm (the integrated movement of the shoulder blade and arm) and weak rotator cuff muscles. Poor scapulo-humeral rhythm is often the result of muscular tightness and strength imbalances and can be effectively treated by physiotherapy.
It is important to get your assessed early on. the longer you leave getting your shoulder treated the harder it becomes to treat and the more likely you are to get secondary problems.