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Muscles and the Rotator Cuff

Updated on April 15, 2013

The Rotator Cuff

As we age, our bodies succumb to the effects of time. Healthy bodies slowly break down. Muscle fibers stretch and become weaker. Joints wear out and aches and pains slowly become a more predominant part of our lives. Regardless of how we treat our bodies, regardless of how we exercise, we all become victims of old age. And, with old age comes a number of ailments that we can look forward to. Among the long list muscle and joint deteriation is the breakdown of the rotator cuff.

The rotator cuff is a grouping of muscles and tendons that make up the shoulder. Working together, this system is part of what allows your arm to rotate and move in a variety of directions. The main function of the muscles making up the rotator cuff is to stabilize the shoulder. If, for some reason, these muscles and tendons begin to deteriorate or are injured in some way, the shoulder with cease to function efficiently and you may experience pain and discomfort.

Over the years, orthopedic surgeons and others who specialize in the musculoskeletal system have reported an increase in cases of people who have rotator cuff damage. What was once merely a condition that afflicted those in their 60s and beyond, was slowly becoming a problem of those who were much younger. Throughout the decades the age of people with rotator cuff damage plummeted from the 60s to the 50s and it was even seen in people as young as 40 years of age.

Symptoms and Treatment

Types of Injuries

Like many parts of the body, it is possible to injure your rotator cuff by tearing or causing trauma to one or more of the muscles that make up the system. These injuries usually come about through either an event that exceeds the capabilities of the muscle system causing damage, or through repetitious action. Although accidents that cause great stress on the rotator cuff can cause lasting damage, it is repetitious motions that most commonly cause problems. These type of repetitious injuries usually occur in athletes of all kinds that use the same motion in their sport, like throwing a ball. This kind of injury can also occur in people that lift heavy weights – again, over and over throughout a period of time.

How to tell if your rotator cuff is torn.

The first sign that you have a torn rotator cuff is an obvious and lasting pain in the area of your shoulder. This will most assuredly be accompanied by limited movement of your arm. But, the only way to determine what damage (if any) and to what degree you have to your rotator cuff is to visit a doctor. Only with a trained professional and specialized equipment can you determine what is wrong with your shoulder.

Rotator Cuff Excercises


Because the rotator cuff is a system of muscles and tendons initial treatment comes from the same basis as any muscle injury. The first steps are always to rest the shoulder in addition to the application of ice to help reduce the swelling. Other effective measures to reduce the swelling include compression on the area and keeping the shoulder elevated above the heart by laying on your side or sitting up.

After a period of rest, it may be necessary to rehabilitate and strengthen the rotator cuff. There are a wide array of shoulder exercises to allow your rotator cuff to become stronger. In fact, shoulder exercises will not only help you heal, but could prevent future damage to your shoulder by making it stronger and more able to withstand constant daily abuse. Before exercising it is always a good idea to check with a doctor.

If damage to the rotator cuff is deep and lasting, it may be necessary to have surgery. Please note though, that in many cases, surgery is not necessary – even if you have a great deal of damage to your cuff. However, there are times when surgery is necessary. Surgery on the rotator cuff often means repairing damaged muscle with new muscle and reattaching it to the bone. Recovery times vary and only your doctor will know how long your recovery will take based on all the information related to your specific situation.


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