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rotator cuff injury | shoulder pain | osteopath balwyn

What is a Rotator Cuff Injury in the shoulder?

Written by Boroondara Osteopathy

A well-known clinic in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs founded by Dr Katie Willy (Osteopath)

rotator cuff injury | shoulder pain | osteopath balwyn

What is Rotator Cuff Injury?

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that help move the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff is also commonly referred to as a stabilizer of the shoulder but there is minimal evidence of this.

The four muscles are grouped together because they all originate off the scapular (shoulder blade) and attach to the humerus (upper arm bone) at close but different points.

These muscles can be injured through direct trauma such as a fall or the arm being jerked away from the body unexpectedly. Repetitive motion is also a common reason for tearing or tendonitis (inflammation of a tendon).

The Mayo Clinic lists the most common symptoms from rotator cuff pain:

  • A deep dull ache in the shoulder
  • Pain that disrupts sleep
  • Makes it difficult to comb your hair or reach behind your back
  • Pain can be accompanied by weakness

Overuse or RSI in the rotator cuff…

Overuse or RSI injuries become a factor if there is poor biomechanics through the shoulder AND body in the first place. For example, if someone has broken an arm or sprained a wrist in the past, it’s not just the injury that is affected, there is a domino-effect into the joints through the whole arm, even after the initial injury has healed. All joint influence how well each other move.

When any of these joints in the arm (fingers, wrist, elbow, shoulder, ) have been injured, it has a big impact on the other joints as a protective factor from the pain. This may result in the shoulder working extra hard because the let’s say the wrist is not doing its total job after a wrist injury.

If the shoulder continues to be relied upon to take up the slack for a long period of time, then muscles around the shoulder like the rotator cuff muscles, are overused and this results in more long-term injury. This happens so often and these joint relationships are hugely overlooked.

What else might contribute to a rotator cuff injury?

The other big influencer for the arm is the rib cage. We sometimes forget this relationship, but of course they have a connection via the shoulder blade’s movement over the ribcage! With a direct link like this, if the rib cage has limitations in movement, then either the shoulder blade doesn’t move well OR has to take up the slack, and we could end up with the same overuse problem I mentioned before.

But what might affect the ribcage?

  • spinal pain and stiffness
  • rib issues
  • breathing difficulties such as asthma
  • chronic neck pain
  • forward head carriage

Common Rotator cuff injury symptoms:

  • Pain at rest and at night, particularly if lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain when lifting and lowering your arm or with specific movements
  • Weakness when lifting or rotating your arm
  • Crepitus or crackling sensation when moving your shoulder in certain positions

Treating a Rotator Cuff Injury with Osteopathy

Mild rotator cuff injury is treated with ice, rest, and anti-inflammatory medications (such as ibuprofen and others). Generally, physical therapy such as osteopathy and using gradual exercise rehabilitation is required. Exercises are used that are specifically designed for rotator-cuff strengthening. We use hands on therapy to help with pain symptoms and increase some range of motion.

The bigger aim is always to take away the causative factor in the first place, so this might involve working with the elbow, wrist, or rib cage as well as directly on the shoulder.

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