Severe pain around the top, front, and side of the shoulder is quite common and can often be traced to problems in the Rotator Cuff, the group of muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. In this article, you will learn about this delicate muscular collection and discover important steps toward healing your shoulder pain.

The shoulders are perhaps the most overused and under-cared-for joints in the body. They are essential in the performance of everyday activities such as typing, driving, reaching, lifting, etc, but also take a lot of strain in more strenuous activities like tennis, weight lifting, rowing and other sports.

Rotator Cuff Basics

An inside look at the muscles of the rotator cuff.
An inside look at the muscles of the rotator cuff.

The four muscles of the rotator cuff wrap around the arm bone, attaching it to the bones of the shoulder and holding it in the hollow of the joint.

The rotator cuff plays a key role in all movements at the head of the arm bone. It helps lift the arm forward, pull it back, lift it to the side, and circle it all the way around. When a pitcher winds up to send the ball over the plate, the rotator cuff is what gives him the control to follow through with force.

The repetition of daily tasks can cause limited range of motion, as well as a hardening and shortening of the muscles in the complex structure of the shoulder. This can lead to damage and inflammation. Going from everyday repetition to the demands of sports takes an even greater toll on the rotator cuff.

Think of these muscles like the cuff of your shirt. Ideally, the rotator cuff muscles should be supple and pliable, allowing the arm to move in the socket with ease. However, these muscles are often either over-used or tight from inactivity and the cuff becomes more like a stiff t-shirt.

In this condition, the rotator muscles can easily become frayed or even torn through repetitive motions or sudden movements. They can also become irritated by rubbing against the bones of the shoulder. In these conditions, inflammation is virtually inevitable, which can severely inhibit motion, even to the point of preventing it altogether, causing a condition known as Frozen Shoulder.

Solutions for the Rotator Cuff

The first step is to give your shoulder a break — playing or working through the pain will only lead to further injury. Your first priority is to remove inflammation from the muscles of the rotator cuff by applying the RICE treatment (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) along with pain and/or anti-inflammatory medications. Removing inflammation will help relax the muscle, which accomplishes three objectives:

  1. Relaxed muscles occupy less space and therefore there is less chance of abrasion of the tendons and muscles on the bones of the shoulder joint.
  2. The relaxed muscle exerts less pull on the irritated tendons and therefore causes less pain.
  3. Relaxed muscles allow greater circulation of blood and nutrients and therefore give the damaged tissues greater efficiency in healing and a speedy recovery.

Although the treatment options following this vary, the most important thing is to restore resiliency to the muscles and keep them from pulling the rotator cuff into further damage. Self-massage of the rotator cuff muscles using Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls and the accompanying Rotator Cuff Series can be a great help. For strengthening and stretching exercises check out the Yoga Tune Up® Shoulder Quick-Fix Video.

The muscles of the Rotator Cuff are delicate, complex and prone to injury. However with a little maintenance, and a regular exercise and massage routine, you can have healthy shoulders for life!

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