Many of us have heard of the "rotator cuff" of the shoulder, but don't actually know what that means. You might have the vague sense it has to do with structures that control the shoulder, and you'd be right. It's the muscles that control your shoulder rotation! Since I get this question a lot, let's go ahead and break down the muscles of the rotator cuff in today's blog post.
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles. They work to help the shoulder move, but are also crucial to stability of the shoulder. The shoulder joint is very mobile, it has great range (ideally), but the trade-off for that range is that it's fairly unstable compared to other joints. The muscles of the rotator cuff offer a Goldilocks situation- if they are too tight they can limit the range of motion of the shoulder, and if they are too loose then the shoulder is less stable. Creating a balance in the rotator cuff is important for the joint and to keep the nerve connecting well down the arm and into the hand. As a general recommendation, some moderate exercise for the rotator cuff is useful for those who do not experience pain in the shoulder, and exercises can be customized for those who do experience pain by a physiotherapist.
For those who like to know the names of the muscles they are:
External rotation: these muscles rotate the arm away from the center of the body
Several trigger points are common for the rotator cuff. They can cause sensations to the middle of the back, to the neck, and even tingling and numbness down the arm.
There are several resources for self-massage to help alleviate some of the symptoms of trigger points in the rotator cuff. Check out this detailed explanation for the infraspinatus. On the same site, you can learn to work your teres minor, as well as your subscapularis which is more difficult to do yourself.
There are several types of tears that happen in the rotator cuff as well, it's not just one injury when you hear "torn rotator cuff". You can read more about it here.
What's going on with me, research articles, interesting little blurbs. This blog is an attempt to consolidate research into an easily digestible format.
Alex Moon has been a Licensed Massage Therapist since 2012, did his undergraduate studies at Utah State, and is currently working on his Doctorate in Physical Therapy.