Rotator Cuff Muscles: Functions and Common Issues

Injured rotator cuff muscles can adversely affect a person’s ability to move and accomplish daily tasks as it can severely limit the movement of the shoulders.

rotator cuff muscles

Shoulders are very important joints that do most of our upper body’s movement and location during physical activities. However, they are mostly taken for granted despite them being used in everyday life, combing one’s hair or playing sports.

The movement of the human shoulders is a complex series of processes that are usually ignored because our bodies make it look simple and easy.

The Rotator Cuff Muscles play a large part in the aforementioned process of making our shoulders move. It helps protect the shoulder joints and promotes shoulder and arm movement. It is especially important during physical activities or sports such as baseball, swimming, and tennis.

What are the Rotator Cuff Muscles?

The rotator cuff muscles are actually muscles and tendons that ensure the maintenance and proper location of the ball (humerus) in the shoulder socket. In addition, the rotator cuff muscles aid the body in raising and rotating the arm. As stated earlier, the rotator cuff muscles play an important role in the movement and locomotion of the upper body. This is possible because of the following groups of muscles and tendons:

  • Supraspinatus. This specific muscle maintains the humerus in its place and keeps the upper arm steady during physical activities. The Supraspinatus also aids in lifting the arms.
  • Infraspinatus. The Infraspinatus is the major muscle that lets the human body rotate and extend the shoulder.
  • Teres Minor. This muscle is the smallest muscle in the Rotator Cuff. It mainly helps the body in making the arm rotate and extend away from the body.
  • Subscapularis. The Subscapularis attaches the upper arm bone to the shoulder blade. It also assists in making the arm rotate, extend straight forward and lower it.

Common Issues and Injuries of the Rotator Cuff Muscles

Injured rotator cuff muscles can adversely affect a person’s ability to move and accomplish daily tasks as it can severely limit the movement of the shoulders. Listed below are some of the more common injuries of the rotator cuff muscles:

  • Rotator Cuff Tear

This type of Rotator Cuff injury is mostly due to the normal wear and tear of the Rotator Cuff muscles. This is particularly true for individuals who are required to accomplish their work or physical in such a way that it requires repetitive joint movements or certain movements that are repeated over and over. Examples would carpenters, painters, tennis players, and baseball players. A rotator cuff tear can also happen if an individual falls on his or her arms or tries to lift something really heavy. This kind of injury usually requires medication and therapy to heal but surgery may also be recommended by a healthcare professional.

  • Tendinitis

Tendinitis of the Rotator Cuff is the irritation or inflammation of the tendon that attaches to the bone. It causes significant amounts of pain in and around the area of the affected joint. Some of the more common types of tendinitis include swimmer’s shoulder and pitcher’s shoulder.

  • Bursitis

The Bursa is the fluid-filled sac that protects the rotator cuff of an individual. Bursitis occurs when the bursa gets irritated or inflamed. This is usually caused by the same issues that contribute to a rotator cuff tear which is the repeated movements or motions that are done over and over such as repeatedly lifting something over the head or throwing a baseball. Bursitis may also be caused by an infection.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injuries

Rotator cuff tears, tendinitis, and bursitis may all result in various different symptoms for affected patients. Enumerated are some of the said symptoms, viz:

  1. Patients will tend to avoid certain movements due to the pain caused by the said motion.
  2. Individuals with rotator cuff injuries will have difficulty in achieving a complete range of movement for their shoulders
  3. Patients will also complain about difficulty in sleeping on the affected shoulder due to pain and joint pressure.
  4. Those affected by rotator cuff injuries will also report pain reaching for something overhead
  5. Patients with rotator cuff injuries will also complain of shoulder pains especially at night
  6. Individuals with injured rotator cuff muscles will also feel the progressive weakening of their shoulders.
  7. Patients with injured rotator cuff muscles will encounter some problems when trying to reach behind their back.

Patients or individuals with any or all of the aforementioned symptoms are highly encouraged to seek immediate medical attention and consult a doctor on what can be done to treat a possible rotator cuff injury.

Risk Factors for Rotator Cuff Muscle injury

Rotator cuff muscle injury can be acute or degenerative. Acute rotator cuff muscle injuries usually occur due to some form of particular accident or incident that can injure the rotator cuff muscles and shoulder muscles. Acute rotator cuff injuries usually occur due to lifting heavy objects, falling on one side particularly the shoulders, and by having a rotator cuff forced into an awkward position during physical activities. This kind of rotator cuff injuries usually affects young people who lead active and physically demanding lifestyles.

Degenerative Rotator Cuff Injuries occur due to regular wear and tear of the rotator cuff muscles caused by repetitive motion or movements. This type of rotator cuff injury commonly affects athletes particularly tennis players, baseball players, boat rowers, and wrestlers, people with jobs that require repetitive motion or movements such as painters and carpenters and people who are usually aged 40 years and above.

How are Rotator Cuff Muscle Injuries Treated?

Treatments for rotator cuff muscle injuries can range from as simple as resting the affected limb to more extensive treatment such as surgery. Due to rotator cuff muscle injuries worsening over time such as tendinitis eventually turning into a rotator cuff tear, seeking medical attention for rotator cuff muscle injuries is highly recommended. Immediate medical attention can prevent the injury from worsening or progressing further. Treatments for Rotator Cuff Muscle Injuries include the following measures:

  1. Application of hot or cold compress
  2. Exercising to improve muscle  strength and restore muscle range of motion
  3. Cortisone injection for the affected area
  4. Resting the injured arm and using a sling to limit the arm’s movement
  5. Taking over the counter pain relievers to alleviate the pain of the injury

rotator cuff muscles

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