When you use your computer, turn a screwdriver, lift your luggage, throw a ball, pull a box down from a shelf, or even just brush your teeth, your rotator cuff is instrumental in allowing these actions.

The rotator cuff is the collection of muscles, ligaments and tendons in the shoulder joint that enables movements such as pushing, pulling, lifting, reaching and twisting.  Reduced range of motion, weakness or pain in performing any of these tasks can signify injury, damage or deterioration in this area.

Physiology of the Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is composed of four muscles ((supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis), as well as tendons and ligaments that are surrounded by bone at the front (caracoid) and top (acromion) of the shoulder.  Tendons support shoulder movement by forming a cuff around the humerus (arm bone) that stabilizes it and holds it in position in the shoulder socket. As well, they connect the upper arm to the shoulder blade. The muscles, tendons and ligaments in the shoulder joint work hard to support smooth and directed movement of the arms.

Rotator Cuff  Dysfunction :

Common actions and disease in this area that can be attributed to tears and fraying in the tendons and muscles of the rotator cuff include:

  • Repetitive motions such as those used by painters, carpenters, weightlifters and other athletes
  • Poor posture
  • Aging
  • Falling on the arm causing damage to the shoulder joint
  • Strains to muscles and tendons from lifting heavy objects

The conditions and syndromes that result are:

  • Bursitis (inflammation of the fluid filled bursa sacs that act as a cushion between the tendons and the shoulder bones)
  • Tendonitis – inflamed tendons in the shoulder and upper arm due to strain
  • Rotator Cuff Impingement – tendons are trapped between the humerus and acromion compressed, causing intermittent pain and restricted movement
  • Frozen shoulder – the humerus adheres to the shoulder blade resulting in pain and stiffness during movement
  • Rotator cuff tear – an injury causes a tear in a weakened tendon that causes weakness and pain in the arm

The source of the pain is usually due to the presence of inflammation from swelling of the tissue within the shoulder bone cavity or from cartilage in the shoulder that is rubbing against bone.  The pain symptoms can be treated using ice to reduce the inflammation, rest and massage.

Support Through Massage

In general, massage helps increase blood flow, brings nutrition to the cells and increases oxygenation to any injured or painful area of the body, which promotes healing.

For rotator cuff issues specifically, gentle stretching of the muscles will elongate and keep them flexible as well as improve the range of motion in the shoulder. This also helps prevent susceptibility to future strains and injury to the area.

Massage helps reduce stiffness and pain in rotator cuff and shoulder. Light and superficial massage can facilitate the reduction of scar tissue, which can cause restricted movement.

Deep tissue massage can promote soft tissue healing both locally and through stimulating the production of anti-stress hormones for pain reduction.

Massage therapy is contraindicated in cases of joint swelling. Only after swelling has subsided should such techniques as deep tissue massage be used. During the initial stages of a rotator cuff injury massage techniques can be lightly applied. Adding ice therapy to the treatments is an extra benefit to help return to full function in the joint.

If surgery is required to repair torn tendons and muscles, massage therapy can be one of the restorative protocols post-op.

With the help of massage, rotator cuff issues can be treated. Shoulder movement can be restored to normal function, which supports the return to full participation in life activities.

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