Shoulder Pain - Rotator Cuff Injury

What is the rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff consists of 4 muscles that form a “cuff” around the ball of the upper arm where it fits together with the shoulder blade. These muscles connect the upper arm to the shoulder blade and keeps the shoulder joint together. In other words, the rotator cuff gives stability to the shoulder.

What injuries are commonly seen at the rotator cuff?

Rotator cuff tear:  an injury tears, an often weakened (from wear and tear), rotator cuff tendon.

Symptoms:  pain and weakness in the arm

Rotator cuff tendinitis:  a repetitive strain injury, often caused by regular activities where the arm is used in the ranges of 90 degrees elevation and higher.

Symptoms:  painful shoulder, with or without referral down the arm.

Rotator cuff impingement:  often occurs after repetitive, small injuries to the tendons. This causes scar tissue build-up, pinching the tendon between the ball of the upper arm and the bony protrusion of the shoulder blade above it.

Symptoms:  Similar to a tendinitis

Frozen shoulder:  the ball of the upper arm “sticks” to the shoulder blade where it comes together.

Symptoms:  shoulder pain and stiffness

Subacromial bursitis:  inflammation of the soft “cushion” of fluid between the rotator cuff and the bony protrusion from the shoulder blade.

Symptoms:  local pain and even swelling

How can physiotherapy help?

The physiotherapist will, after a thorough assessment, treat the relevant muscle(s) with various manual or electrotherapy techniques. They will also help with pain management and give advice on resting periods etc.

Furthermore the therapist will educate you on the possible causes of your injury and advise you on changes you can make in order to prevent future injury. This education will most likely include exercises and stretches in order to improve your posture and movement mechanics.

In severe cases the physiotherapist will be able to refer you for further radiological investigations or to a specialist to assist with the management of the condition.