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Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is actually a group of muscles and tendons that attach onto the top of your upper arm bone (the humerus) and stabilize the shoulder joint. An easy way to remember the muscles of the rotator cuff is with the acronym SITS: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis. The rotator cuff is important in that it keeps the head of your arm bone snugly in the socket of the shoulder joint and helps you raise and rotate your arm.


Rotator cuff injuries are common in sports, as well as in professions that require lots of overhead motions, like carpenters or painters. Because the rotator cuff is actually made up of several muscles and tendons in a very mobile joint, there are a few different types of injuries that can occur.


  • Tendinitis (inflammation in the tendons that attach the muscles to the bone) can happen with repeated overhead motions, like in swimming or pitching a baseball.

  • Repeated overuse can also cause bursitis, an irritation of the small fluid-filled sacs that protect the tendons from friction in the shoulder joint.

  • A rotator cuff tear, where small tissue tears occur in the tendon, can also be caused by overuse during sports like tennis or baseball, on the job, or due to an acute injury like an awkward fall onto the arm.


Injuries to the rotator cuff will often be accompanied by a dull deep ache in the shoulder, difficulty performing overhead motions or reaching behind your back, and sometimes weakness in the arm. Without treatment, rotator cuff injuries can get worse over time and lead to more pain, difficulty with daily activities that involve reaching or lifting over your head, and a loss of strength and range of motion in the shoulder joint.

Rotator Cuff Injury Treatment

What can physiotherapy do?

Your physiotherapist will assess the range of motion, strength, stability, and mechanics of your shoulder girdle in order to determine which tendon(s) are involved and the probable cause.  They will outline a treatment plan that aims to make it feel better today and prevent it from coming back tomorrow.  


Treatments involve restoring normal function of the joint, using manual therapy and exercise, and local modalities such as:

  • Stabilization of postural and shoulder blade musculature

  • Mobilization of the glenohumeral (ball and socket) joint 

  • Addressing the interconnection of the cervical spine and the function of the shoulder complex

  • IMS/Acupuncture

  • Ultrasound

  • Shockwave

  • Cryotherapy


When the area is responding well, we will direct you to exercises in order to recondition the area and make it more resilient for a sustainable positive outcome that allows you to participate in your sport or the game of life without restrictions. We will also look at long term strategies to protect the rotator cuff from further harm when you are performing activities that tend to put the rotator cuff at risk.

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