The rotator cuff and its function
In the outpatient physical therapy world we see patients with shoulder pain on a daily basis.
Regardless of the actual diagnosis the rotator cuff almost always has an important role in the
rehabilitation process. So what is the rotator cuff and why is it so important?
The rotator cuff is actually a group of four muscles in the shoulder; supraspinatus, infraspinatus,
tere minor and the subscapularis. These muscles attach from your shoulder blade and insert
into the humeral head of the shoulder. The rotator cuff is the main stabilizer of the shoulder,
but what does that mean? As you lift your arm the humeral head (ball) has to stay centered in
the glenoid (socket) so that the ball does not ride up and pinch, causing pain. When the rotator
cuff is damaged or weak this can lead to impingement and possible full tears of the rotator cuff
tendons which could require surgery.
As you age the tissue quality of the rotator cuff starts to degenerate, putting you at higher risk
of tears and injury. A study by Tempelhof et al. found that even in those individuals not having
shoulder pain age 50-80, 23% had some degree of rotator cuff pathology/tearing. In this study
they also found that each decade after age 50 the percentage of individuals with rotator cuff
tears increased about 10%.
To help alleviate shoulder pain or to prevent shoulder pain two easy exercises can be performed
in the gym using a cable column or at home using exercise bands to strength the rotator cuff.
Source: Tempelhof, Siegbert, Stefan Rupp, and Romain Seil. "Age-related prevalence of rotator cuff tears
in asymptomatic shoulders." Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery 8.4 (1999): 296-299.