The Rotator Cuff is a Delicate Flower

Anyone who has had extensive experience in an activity that requires explosive movement of the upper limb likely realizes the fragility of the rotator cuff. As I always say, playing sports is a great way to get injured. Even non-contact sports like baseball, tennis and swimming carry injury risk, because repetitive overhead arm movement is recognized as one of the primary causes of rotator cuff injuries. However, that isn’t the only cause — those who engage in activities that keep the arm overhead or in a fixed position for extended periods are also at risk — carpenters, hairstylists, painters, etc. Naturally, gym-rats are no strangers to torn rotator cuffs, as bench presses, military presses and heavy overhead lifts can put a tremendous amount of stress on the shoulder (utilizing a neutral grip with the palms facing each other can help to avoid the internal shoulder rotation that a typical pronated grip can cause). Even couch potatoes should be concerned, since poor posture alone can also irritate the architecture of the shoulder over time.

To complicate matters, the rotator cuff can tear instantly from an acute injury, or can be worn down gradually due to impingement. The tear can be partial, in which the attachments to the bone are not completely severed, or a complete tear can occur, where the tendon goes “poof,” to use a totally-scientific term.

So, what should we do about all this? Some preventive measures maybe? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered…

The muscles of the rotator cuff include:

  • Supraspinatus — abducts the arm at the shoulder joint.
  • Infraspinatus — externally rotates the arm at the shoulder joint.
  • Teres Minor — also externally rotates the arm at the shoulder joint.
  • Subscapularis — depresses the head of the humerus, internally rotates the arm at the shoulder joint.

Together, these muscles function to keep the humeral head in its proper position in the glenohumeral joint. Strengthening them will serve to provide a measure of prevention against rotator cuff injuries. First though, if you think you have an existing tear, or a partial tear, or you have chronic shoulder pain, or your shoulder feels funny, or no matter what manner of shoulder malady you may have — please, see a physician. He/she can diagnose the problem and suggest a course of treatment. A rotator cuff injury may need surgery, or surgery may be avoidable — but only a doctor can tell you.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, it’s time for some pre-habilitation.

These exercises will strengthen the rotator cuff and help protect against injury:

  • I-Y-T-W on Stability Ball
  • Band Pull-Aparts
  • Internal Rotation (use band while standing or dumbbell while lying on your side)
  • External Rotation (use band while standing or dumbbell while lying on your side)

Do these 1-2 times per week for 2-3 sets of 10 repetitions each.

A healthy shoulder is a happy shoulder.

Sources

Blevins, FT. “Rotator Cuff Pathology in Athletes.” September 24, 1997.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9327536

Bradley & Jobe. “Rotator Cuff Injuries in Baseball.” December 6, 1988. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3231953

Heyward, Vivian. “Advanced Fitness Assessment and Prescription, 6th Edition.” Human Kinetics. 2010.

John, Daniel. “Mass Made Simple.” On Target Publications. Aptos, CA. 2011.

Knopf, Karl G. “Exercise Therapy 3rd Edition.” International Sports Science Association Official Course Text. Carpinteria, CA. 2013.

Nicol, Ashley. “Rotator Cuff Injuries Solved.” Createspace. USA. 2012.

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