Rotator cuff muscles are of four types, all of which are responsible for shoulder stability and arm rotation. This group of muscles forms most part of the scapulohumeral muscles.
Rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their associated tendons, which shields the head portion of the humerus (arm bone). Also known as rotor cuff, this combination of muscles helps in arm rotation and balanced shoulder movement. They originate from the shoulder blade (scapula) and extend to the humerus, where they join like a cuff. As these muscles are applied for daily movements and activities, they are more susceptible to injury than other muscular tissues.
The major functions of rotator cuff are to stabilize the humerus in the shoulder joint and ensure proper movement of the arm, either by adduction or rotation. As per orthopedists, it is the primary area for shoulder-related trauma. To be more precise, a patient with shoulder pain is quite likely to have a rotator cuff injury.
A classification of the muscles, along with the functions, is stated below:
- The supraspinatus muscle abducts the arm
- The infraspinatus muscle rotates the arm externally
- The teres minor muscle rotates the arm externally
- The subscapularis muscle rotates the humerus internally
Thus, all the muscles are collectively responsible for proper movement of the arm, especially rotational and overhead.
No doubt, the rotator cuff muscles are engaged in performing day-to-day activities. But, proper weight exercises that target individual muscles are beneficial to avoid future incidences of shoulder injuries. Some useful rotator cuff exercises are:
- external rotations while lying on the sides
- internal rotations accompanied with lateral raises
- light weight exercises
- isometric contraction
These activities aid in strengthening the muscles.
A commonly manifested condition, rotator cuff pain is caused due to exertion of the muscles and/or physical trauma. It worsens when the arms are lifted and elevation movements are performed. Adequate rest is the thumb rule to reduce pain and swelling. Home remedies include application of ice packs, elevation, and compression therapy. If pain persists for an extended period, getting it addressed by a physician is a practical solution.
A torn rotator cuff indicates a tear in one or more tendons of the cuff, whereas shoulder impingement refers to damage, irritation, or inflammation of the muscles or tendons. Both these conditions affect the normal functioning of the shoulder and arm. However, rotator cuff tear is asymptomatic in most cases and gradually worsens with time. For mild rotator cuff injuries, self-care methods suffice for management of the painful symptoms.
For any symptoms for an affected rotator cuff, the physician will examine the shoulder and upper arm for physical signs such as swelling, tenderness, discoloration, and deformities. The affected area will be checked for strength, limited movement, blood flow, and reflexion. For confirmation of other suspected reasons and to rule out bone-related complications, X-ray imaging test is conducted.
Educating yourself about rotator cuff stretches and exercises and performing them on a regular basis will help in reducing pain and discomfort, if any. For majority of the problems, exercises and therapy are effective to heal the muscles completely. However, in case of severe irreversible injuries to the rotator cuff muscles, the orthopedist doctor may recommend surgery as the last treatment option.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is solely for informative purpose and not intended to replace the advice of medical experts.