The rotator cuff is a group of 4 neighboring muscles that surround and work together to stabilize the glenohumeral joint. They are: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis.
The supraspinatus lives in the supraspinous fossa, the little valley directly above the horizontal ridge, or “spine” of the scapula. The supraspinatus initiates abduction of the humerus. The infraspinatus, is a flat triangular shaped muscle that lives in the infraspinous fossa, on the back of the shoulder blade, below the spine of the scapula. The infraspinatus laterally rotates the humerus. The teres minor is a diagonally shaped muscle that lives just south of the infraspinatus. It assists in lateral rotation of the humerus. All 3 attach to the greater tubercle of the humerus. Finally, the subscapularis, another triangular shaped muscle spans the entire front surface of the scapula. It medially rotates the humerus. The subscapularis attaches just below the head of the humerus.
When balanced, the rotator cuff muscles work together to stabilize the head of the humerus. However, due to repetitive movement patterns of the arms associated with everyday activities such as working on computers, driving, picking up children, carrying bags, the humerus bones are often chronically in internal rotation. As a result, the rotator cuff can easily become imbalanced. If the rotator cuff muscles are unused or injured, other accessory muscles then take over, causing further movement compensations. Extreme cases of overuse cause adhesions in rotator cuff muscles, which can lead to limited range of motion, pain, or injuries like frozen shoulder. These common issues interfere with activities of daily living making simple tasks like washing your hair and getting dressed challenging and very painful. The good news is, this can be prevented with Yoga Tune Up®!
Thanks for your detailed and clear post! May I add that in preventing complications, yes rolling with YTU balls is absolutely key. However, strengthening the back muscles (f.i. rhomboids and serratus anterior) is also very important to help change on a long-term our posture and the way we use our body in these everyday situations you mention.
I had long suspected my daily “mousing” was the cause of my shoulder pain and this blog has helped me understand how. Thanks for the clear information.
Great post – thanks for your concise and detailed explanation of the rotator cuff muscles and chronic issues that can arise when the rotator cuff becomes imbalanced. This is the first I’ve heard about the humerus bones often being in chronic internal rotation, but after reading your post I’m realizing how often I’m in internal rotation in my own body. I would love to hear more about the ways that Yoga Tune Up can help prevent movement compensations and limited range of motion.
Today I realized how imbalanced my rotator cuffs were when I was flossing with a towel – one shoulder was able to internally rotate with ease, while the other was deeply limited. Its important to bring attention to these “stiff” areas, as improved mobility requires movement! As obvious as this may sound, we often neglect the past of our body that don’t wish to move the way we want to. Patience and consistency is key!
Thank you for the easy-to-understand article, my shoulders are often tight and I have found ball work on these muscles really improves my range of motion, also yoga tuneup moves such as shoulder flossing are essential for keeping healthy range of motion in the rotator cuff. Especially since like you mentioned, a lot of our daily activities only include flexion and internal rotation of the glenohumeral joint .
Claire this was a really easy to understand and complete explanation about the rotator cuff muscles, their location and their actions The first three, Supraspinous, Infraspinatus and the Teres Minor located on the posterior surface of the scapular attaching to the greater tubercle of the Humerus .They all assist in stabilizing the head of the Humerus. Supraspinous abducts the Humerus and is the only muscle of the group that doesn’t rotate the Humerus. Infraspinatus and Teres minor laterally rotate and adduct the shoulder at the GH joint. The Subscapularis located on the posterior surface of the scapular also stabilizes the head of the Humerus . It is the only one of the Rotator cuff muscles that medially rotates the shoulder. A real lite-bulb moment for me was placing my thumb into my armpit attempting to palpate the front of my scapular and medially rotator the head of my Humerus. I now can feel my subscapularis contract, Woo Hoo. The shoulder joint being a ball and socket joint need to be moved through all of the directions of moment it was intended to perform. Anytime we don’t use, abuse, or misuse muscles it takes us down a path to pain, usually resulting in more movement compensations in neighboring muscles.
Fabulous description of the these very important muscles. People just don’t realize how often we can neglect these muscles.
We need to pay more attention to the signals that they send us. The alternative, so well put by you, limited range of motion, pain or injuries like a Frozen Shoulder. A friend of mine had this injury, it took months for it to heal. to bad I didn’t know about the Yoga Tune Up Balls back then I would have given her a pair.
It’s amazing how apparently “innocent” moves such as shoulder flossing go a long way for the rotator cuff. And it is simple as grabbing a strap, belt or a rolled towel with your hands, abducting your arms holding the strap, then flexing your shoulders which will lift your arms up and then over your head (extending shoulders). Go all the way through and pass your head and then back where you began. As you continue to do this dinamic movement up and down you can actively feel the lubrication this move gives to you rotator cuff but also you can feel how this activates your deltoids, biceps, triceps. Also, how all the muscles on your upper body come into play such as pecs, trapezius, rhomboid and they are very active supporting your upper body.
Thanks for the informative article. It’s a great reminder of just how often our shoulders are internally rotated throughout the day. When crafting a yoga sequence, I always try to introduce the concept of external rotation and it’s benefits, then I take the students through a few different postures (YTU and traditional yoga) to illustrate the feeling of internal vs. external rotation. Often time it’s just raising the awareness of the shoulder position can help students choose positions that allow their body to feel stable in a particular motion.
Thank you for the clear details of the rotator cuff and it’s function. The connection between our daily activities and lack of use of some of the cuff muscles is fascinating. I would love to know more about how yoga tune up can prevent the injury, and I will definitly become more aware of my shoulder movements and shoulder internal rotation and see where I can improve.
This is a very good explanation of the way the rotator cuff works – it’s something that we spoke about in the Yoga Tune-Up portion of my yoga teacher training. I type at a desk Monday-Friday, 8-6. I know that sitting for that long period of time is not good – so I do the best I can to get up, move, walk, stretch, etc., throughout the day to try and counter act the sitting posture that i have. With that said, internal rotation for that long period of time is not something that I ever really thought about until the teacher training. So, now i take external rotation breaks too. This way, when I go to yoga at night, I don’t “shock” my rotator cuff with sudden external rotations.
This was a great explanation of the rotator cuffs. I just got done reading the Rotator Cuff Muscles section in “Trail Guide to the Body” and it’s nice to read it on this blog in article blog terms! We did some Shoulder Shape Up exercises in class yesterday, and afterwards i went to Venice Beach to do some hand stand press ups on the bars, and my rotator cuffs are killing me. Luckily, we’ll be rolling out our Rotator Cuffs tomorrow in our Therapy Ball Routine!! =)
I really like the description of the ways that our daily lives can be affected my injuries/issues with the rotator cuff. It helps to put into perspective the need to address the health of these muscles and their importance in so many activities in our lives!
Your article is particularly helpful as I am re-learning about the rotator cup in Yoga Tune Up class today. It’s amazing that four small muslces are responsible for holding the humerous in place. No wonder it is so easily dislocated. I think that shoulder health should be included in every class we teach.
Very succint, clear description of the rotator cuff muscle group. Thanks for posting.
It’s so great to have a deeper knowledge of all these muscles that make my rotator cuffs work smoothly (or, sometimes, not work). The Tune Up practices have been fantastic to counteract the effects of too much computer time at work, or dancing with a tense or poorly trained partner. The rotator cuff practice is intense but so worth it.
I learned in the YTU class so much about the rotator cuff I hadn’t known before, like four muscles make up the rotator cuff. We also practiced some ball exercises to help stretch, massage and warm up the area. Using the balls will definitely come in handy to help prevent any injuries in the future.
Thanks for the article!! Because I, like most of society, internally rotate a lot, I love Pin The Arms On The Yogi!!
We learned about the importance of strengthening our rotator cuff muscles today in class. Exercises like Raise the Challace, Dolphin Supinate, and Holy Cow at the trough help with strengthening and training our shoulders to externally rotate. Daily activities and exercise can hurt our rotator cuff if we do not externally rotate when needed. Thank you so much for your informative post!
Great article on helping people understand the rotator cuff area of our shoulders!
Most people believe that the rotator cuff is an actual cuff, this article gives people great understanding of how the rotator cuff is actually a group of 4 dynamic muscles, that work together to move our shoulder. Our daily routine is such a detriment on our shoulders, our routine of sitting, or working over people makes us loose the proper posture that we should have.
By taking the time to listen to our bodies, breathe, depress and retract the scapula, we can certainly improve the health of our shoulders, one day at a time!
This article also educates on how important it is to keep our alignment and posture for strong, well aligned, healthy shoulders.
I’ve thankfully have not had any serious rotator cuff injuries or concerns but every few months I used to suffer from a pinched nerve that would originate from various knots near my scapula that traveled up to my neck, limited the range of motion in my cervical spine. In the past six months I have been rolling out the muscles of the rotator cuff, as well as trapezius with my YTU balls and have not had the pinched nerve come back! In addition, I’ve added Pranic Bath, Megaplank with Active Serratus and Matador Circles into my personal practice and my shoulder are feeling less tight and creaky and more strong and stable.
As a commuter cyclist, I have the potential to exacerbate the internal rotation of my shoulders by hunching over the handle bars. Thanks to Yoga Tune Up® I have learned which position to place my upper body when cycling – thanks to the DOMs of mega plank! In the past I had always attempted to retract my shoulder blades, but I’ve since realized that I am much more stable if I depress, protract and keep them in external rotation as much as possible.
It is interesting to learn more about the four muscles of the rotator cuff. We learned in class about internally rotating and elevating the shoulder and how this can cause instability and impingement. I had always wondered why the Queen waved as she does! Now I know.
It was great to read this today because we studied the rotator cuff muscles in the level 1 teacher training and this blog solidified and reconfirmed my understanding of the anatomy and function of the rotator cuff muscles. Due to the shoulder’s potential for instability it is good to be reminded to move with consciousness and self evaluation through all ranges of shoulder movement.
Thanks for this, Claire. I have injured both rotator cuffs over the years–in yoga, most probably doing chaturanga. Articles like your are very helpful for yogis wanting to learn more about their bodies and especially this tricky area of the shoulder. I’m looking forward to learning more about stabilizing, strengthening and opening the shoulder joints–and how I can work the fascia in these muscles with the therapy balls.
Although I’ve never personally had rotator cuff issues, I have noticed over the years that my right shoulder is a lot tighter in eagle arms then it used to be. And when I roll on my supraspinatus with the therapy balls I am in a kind of heaven. I know it may seem awful but I’ve been teaching yoga for 4 years and never really knew what a rotator cuff was up until the YTU training. When people would tell me they had an injury there (which certainly happens but I would say not as much as knee or low back), I usually just watch them and give modifications with straps etc. But now I can actually speak about what’s happening and provide ways to rehabilitate to boot! So thank you for the post to add to my learning!
Wow, my shoulder injury has been a research project that is still going on after 40 years. Back then tho only thing i was instructed to do was wear a sling for a couple of weeks and I took it on myself to pretend it was ok after that, but it was very painful for about a year and “healed” with a very limited range of motion. Yoga and massage have become my treatment for the last 20 years. I have had good results and still the research project continues.Thanks for the information.
One thing I have heard people reporting that repetitive motion can cause injuries. I believe it is better stated as Repetitive motion out of alignment that is the cause.
I suffered a RC injury about 3 years ago and it took about 6 months to recover … I was told that it was the attachment of Infraspinatus that had been ‘comprimised’ and that it wasn’t a seriously traumatic injury, for which I was thankful. But I could feel that the injury affected the work of all the other muscles in the group & the shift in dynamics was profound. Ever since then I’ve had a healthy respect for these muscles and wanted to learn them inside out. The YTU training put them back on my radar, and I will learn them from the inside out!
its amazing to me how rampant rotator cuff muscle injuries are, and yet no one wants to put the effort in to really work them. i always tell my students that if they worry less about what they are trying to look like and more about getting their bodies to work properly, they will look a million times better without even having to focus on it. once the rotator cuff muscles are awakened and invigorated, you can build a beaitiful deltoid or whatever superficial muscle you’d like, and it will always look better if its actually attached to your body! that said,i struggle to keep my own rotator cuff muscles strong. i think that i too am definietly guilty of the “if i cant see it, it can wait” thought process. such fascinating things we do to hurt ourselves….inside is as important as outside! thanks!
About 10 years ago I fell off a bike, landing on my shoulder, tearing my rotator cuff. Unfortunately, it took one year for a variety of doctors and other healers to properly diagnosis it – – and that was from an MRI. By the time of my operation, the surgeon told me that all 4 muscles had shredded and atrophied so much that he wasn’t even certain how effective his surgery would be. Despite long and intensive PT my shoulder never regained its strenght nor full mobility.
I’m currently in Jill’s Level One Teacher Training and have an even greater respect for the importance of including a variety of YTU shoulder exercises.
I am currently dealing with rotator cuff issues and is not pleasant at all. I would like to learn how to identify the weakest muscle that causes this imbalance so that I can target it more specifically, so if anybody has any tips, please share. Looking forward to learning some YTU new exercises that can help with the overall balance.
Thanks for the post. I’ve realized through yoga that I need to pay particular attention to my rotator cuffs because of exactly the types of things you are referring too – e.g. typing on a keyboard all day. Articles like yours, in addition to texts like Ray Long’s The Key Muscles of Yoga which is a YTU teacher’s reference help to break this down. I find so many yogis that come to me talking about potential rotator cuff problems.