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Rotator Cuff: What You Need to Know!

Your rotator cuff is an important group of muscles that keep the ball (head) of your upper-arm bone (humerus) in your shoulder socket and provide strength and stability during movement of the shoulder joint. The muscles arise from the scapula (shoulder blade) and attach to the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) to form a ‘cuff’ around the joint. These muscles are responsible for multiple actions, including flexion, abduction, internal rotation, and external rotation. There are four muscles in this group which can be memorised using the ‘SITS’ acronym:

- Supraspinatus

- Infraspinatus

- Teres Minor

- Subscapularis

It is common for rotator cuff dysfunction to lead to shoulder pain, impaired function, and resultant reduced quality of life. Rotator cuff injuries are quite common and can occur at any age, though incidence generally increases with age. In younger people, most rotator cuff injuries are the result of trauma to the shoulder joint or from overuse injuries as commonly seen in athletes. In older patients, rotator cuff pathology is generally related to ‘wear and tear’ or degeneration over the years.

Degeneration, impingement, and tearing can all affect the rotator cuff as the result of trauma, repetitive strains or microtrauma, or even poor biomechanics due to postural dysfunction.

The most common injuries to affect the rotator are often referred to as:

- Rotator Cuff Tears: micro or macro tearing of the muscles or tendons within the rotator cuff

- Rotator Cuff Tendinitis: acute inflammation of the soft tissue within the rotator cuff

- Rotator Cuff Tendinopathy: chronic irritation or degeneration of the soft tissue within the rotator cuff

- Impingement Syndrome: the soft tissues (muscles and tendons) of the rotator cuff become pinched between other structures within the shoulder joint.

The most common signs of a rotator cuff injury include:

- General Pain: If pain presents (it doesn’t always) it can often be felt in the front/top of the shoulder joint with referred pain down the outside of the upper arm.

- Pain on Movement: pain may be felt in the shoulder when attempting to lift or rotate the arm.

- Muscle Weakness: you may experience weakness in the affected limb or your chiropractor may find weakness when assessing the rotator cuff muscles.

- Functional Impairment: difficulty doing movements/exercises that were typically easier prior to rotator cuff dysfunction (such as lifting, pushing, overhead movements, or movements with hands behind the back).

Research suggests that chiropractic care (including shoulder and spinal adjustments, soft tissue work, and rehabilitation plans) can assist in the recovery of rotator cuff dysfunction. There is also evidence supporting the use of low level laser therapy in the treatment of rotator cuff conditions (please refer to our article on laser therapy to find out how it works!).

We offer all of the above services at our clinic! If you have any questions or would like to book in, please give us a call and have a chat to one of our friendly chiropractors - we’re here to help!


Rotator Cuff. (2019). Retrieved 10 October 2019, from

Hawk, C., Minkalis, A., Khorsan, R., Daniels, C., Homack, D., & Gliedt, J. et al. (2017). Systematic Review of Nondrug, Nonsurgical Treatment of Shoulder Conditions. Journal Of Manipulative And Physiological Therapeutics, 40(5), 293-319. doi: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2017.04.001

Minkalis, A., Vining, R., Long, C., Hawk, C., & de Luca, K. (2017). A systematic review of thrust manipulation for non-surgical shoulder conditions. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies, 25(1). doi: 10.1186/s12998-016-0133-8


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