• Chrissy Heyl

Dealing with Rotator Cuff Injuries


You and your shoulder: it’s complicated!


The bones

Despite all falling under one general name, the “shoulder” actually consists of four (or maybe five) different joints. The sternoclavicular joint is where your collar bone connects to your breastbone. The acromioclavicular joint (which even doctors just call the AC joint, because nobody has time for all that) is where the very top of your shoulder blade connects to the far end of your collarbone. The glenohumeral joint is where the ball of your humerus fits into the bowl of your shoulder blade. And then there is another joint (or maybe two, depending on who you ask) that is a “false joint” as well.


The meat of the matter

Into this complicated mechanical mess go a host of muscles. There are chest muscles that move the shoulder. There are back muscles that move the shoulder. And there are even muscles of the arm that help move the shoulder, even though that sounds weirdly like trying to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

But not everything is about movement, which is why you have a rotator cuff. These are the muscles that keep your shoulder stable. These four muscles (Yes, four. I told you it was complicated.) include supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor. These four muscles keep your arm from dislocating by offering stabilization when you lift it over your head or move it around.


How rotator cuff injuries develop.

If you are building strength in the muscles that lift and move your arms at the shoulder, this allows you to lift more. But when this is done in a way that is very fast, with poor technique, when already tired, or without a corresponding amount of attention given to strengthening the stabilizers of the shoulder, this puts a lot of extra stress on those rotator cuff muscles. This can cause them to fail in their job, allowing the shoulder capsule to stretch (not good), the head of the humerus to start to migrate out of its spot in the shoulder (kind of bad), or the muscles of the shoulder literally shearing off from their bony attachment (DEFINITELY bad). Other injuries caused by overloaded rotator cuff muscles include tendonitis and nerve impingement.


So ... I messed up my shoulder.


Go see your doctor.

For real. Ice and ibuprofen will get you some relief, but as mentioned earlier, shoulders are incredibly complicated. The chances of your being able to accurately self-diagnose your specific problem are slim to none. And if you’ve got a serious tear going on, waiting to have it repaired will only lead to further degradation of the joint. If you don’t have arthritis yet, that’s like begging for it to start. Nobody’s excited about a trip to see their physician, but that’s what adults do. Sorry!


Okay, okay. But then what?

It depends on what kind of injury you have going on. It might be the sort of thing that taking a break from the aggravating activity for a while can fix. You might need injections. You might need surgery. There will likely be physical therapy involved, to strengthen your shoulder stabilizers and correct any outsized range of motion you’ve developed from lifting/gymnastics/swimming/pitching/etc. But regardless, you’ll need to be more mindful of how you use (and abuse) your shoulders in the future.


How can massage help with rotator cuff injuries?

  • Promote healing by helping to increase blood flow to the affected area

  • Prevention of scar tissue formation which can help with mobility

  • By increasing the production of anti- stress hormones which aid in the reduction of pain and discomfort which in turn can lead to a more restful nights sleep...which creates a positive snowball effect

How do I find a good massage therapist to help me with my shoulder?

You’ve already found one. Click here to schedule your next appointment.