About one third of us will have a rotator cuff injury at some point in our lives, I can’t help believing that if shoulder exercises were part of our daily routine, that number could be greatly reduced.
Nearly Eight million Americans will suffer from a rotator cuff problem this year alone. So what is it and how do we sort it out if we do get one?
The rotator cuff is a reasonably small but vital group of muscles that stabilise the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is made up of a very shallow ball and socket joint. The ball which is at the top of the upper arm or humerus rests on the socket of the shoulder joint that is on the outer edge of the scapula. Think of it like a golf ball sitting on a tee. The rotator cuff muscles all run from the scapula to the head of the humerus pulling it into place, surrounding the shoulder in a cuff of muscle which helps to keep the joint stable and stop it from getting dislocated each time that we lift something heavy or lift our arm above shoulder height.
If we didn’t have the rotator cuff muscles it would be very easy to knock the ball off the tee, great in golf but not so good in a shoulder joint.
These muscles work hardest whenever there is a downward pressure on the shoulder joint. If we are working overhead, reaching out or lifting something they start working to hold the shoulder together.
Which is why, when you hurt any of them, you feel pain when you lift your arm up or out to the side.
As we get on a bit the rotator cuff start to weaken, usually through lack of use so we are more susceptible to this type of injury once we get past forty, although some sportsman are at risk as is anyone who is continually working above shoulder height, decorators, painters etc..
The good news is that the majority of rotator cuff injuries can be solved with just exercise. Most rotator cuff treatment will involve rest to allow the tendons to begin repairing, coupled with treatment of any inflammation with non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Most of the discomfort in a rotator cuff injury is down to the inflammation where swollen tendons can get pinched. It is important to allow the muscles heal and the inflammation to reduce before starting any exercise.
Trying to work through a rotator cuff injury can only make it worse and can even lead to you needing corrective surgery.
Once the inflammation has gone and everything has settled down you need to do some shoulder specific exercises aimed at building up the rotator cuff muscles. Usually within around six weeks, you can get your shoulder joint back to full pain free movement simply by following a rotator cuff treatment programme.
Once you have, then it is essential to continue with the exercises to make sure that your shoulders stay fit, healthy and trouble free.