A rotator cuff injury is a common cause of pain, stiffness, and weakness around the shoulder. Getting an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment can let you return to your normal activities pain-free and also prevent potential problems such as frozen shoulder.
Treatment will depend on the type of injury (strain, sprain, tendinitis, tendinosis, partial tendon tear, or full tendon tear). Rotator cuff rehab often includes exercises and specifically targeted injury massage.
This article explains what the rotator cuff is, provides some general exercises for injury, and discusses how massage can help heal rotator cuff problems.
The four muscles of the rotator cuff connect the shoulder blade (scapula) to the upper arm bone (humerus). These muscles are important in moving (rotating) the arm:
For a clear overview of shoulder anatomy, watch this video:
If your doctor tells you that you have a rotator cuff injury, it could be any of the four muscles. A good sports medicine doctor can tell you specifically which muscle, but if you just have the vague diagnosis of rotator cuff injury, you can do all of the following exercises.
Note that it's a good idea to get your doctor's OK before doing the following exercises or any other rotator cuff exercises.
These exercises are designed to rehab an injury. Do them every day for six to eight weeks. Start with a weight of 1/2 to one pound and work up to four to six pounds.
Important: Don't use heavier weight, even if you're a weightlifter or bodybuilder. You aren't trying to build muscle; the purpose of these exercises is rehab.
General Instructions: For each exercise, do three sets of 10 repetitions. Only on the third set do you want to feel some tiredness or stress:
Icing briefly after these exercises can help minimize pain.
Before using any weight, do 10 repetitions of each exercise without weight. If moving without weight is painful, do not add weight yet. Just do the exercises without weight each day until the discomfort subsides enough that you can add a half pound.
Infraspinatus and Teres Minor Exercise
If you want a more complete rotator cuff exercise program, see The Ultimate Rotator Cuff Training Guide from a physical therapist.
A knowledgeable massage therapist can also help you deal with a rotator cuff injury. For tendon problems, one of the most common injury massage techniques is cross-fiber friction. Friction helps tissue fibers heal in a strong pattern. A massage therapist will also do general massage around the shoulders to release tension.
The following video shows a neuromuscular therapy treatment of the four rotator cuff muscles.
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