What is the Rotator Cuff?

It’s Simple: The Rotator Cuff is a group of five muscles. When functioning well, they work in harmony to keep the ball in the center of the socket of the shoulder joint when we reach and lift with our arms. These muscles are designed to control the contact surfaces of the two bones of the shoulder rather than primarily providing the power needed for heavy work. As a result, injuries can occur from sustained workloads near the limits of their capacity or by a sudden overload. In the case of a minor strain or ‘tear,” with proper care, your shoulder may heal fully and cause no long-standing problem. A larger strain/tear though, will require surgical intervention or result in permanent weakness, inhibited mobility, and pain.

The Mystery

What isn’t as commonly known about the rotator cuff is that the design of our shoulder joint includes an archway that projects out over the socket. This plays a large factor in shoulder pain, particularly if your posture is abnormal. Because of the design of this structure, when alignment is off, the tissue can chafe and wear. In a “normal”, optimal alignment, there is a maximal amount of space in the archway where the muscles pass through as seen in the picture to the right here. But, when we work at a computer, in the kitchen, or at a workbench with our shoulders rounded forward, it reduces the space in the archway where the muscles can rub against it. Over time, this can add “wear” to the muscle-tendon unit. In a “worn” condition, the rotator cuff muscle group is more susceptible to the types of injuries noted above.

Over time, poor postures result in adaptive changes to the muscles and tendons. Some muscles become weak from limited use or being overstretched. Others become tight from not being used in full, lengthened ranges. Muscles become out of balance and this pulls the joints out of optimal alignment. The good news is that abnormal postures, adaptive muscle changes, and minor and moderate muscle strains can be helped.


With proper care, tight muscles can be lengthened to restore flexibility and weak muscles can be strengthened. Abnormal postures and movement patterns can be retrained. Whether at work, in leisure, or in athletics, these can be corrected. This may require advanced physical therapy skills including manual techniques, corrective movement exercise and ergonomics. While rest and medication may be important elements in recovery, addressing these other elements may be the difference between a deteriorating condition with lost function, and a complete recovery.


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