The rotator cuff is a group of muscles which originate on the shoulder blade and then attach to the head of the shoulder, surrounding the head of the humerus. Their role is to maintain the position of the head in the joint as you lift and move the arm through space.
Pain in the shoulder is common and is often attributed to the rotator cuff or surrounding structures. It can be from tendinopathy, partial or full tear, can be acute or an overuse injury. People will often find pain when lifting the shoulder out to the side, above the head out in front or perhaps reaching behind the back into the back seat of the car for instance. Dysfunction of the rotator cuff can also lead to other conditions of the shoulder, like bursitis for example.
Rotator cuff tendinopathy is a condition of the shoulder where one or more of the rotator cuff tendons have become degenerated or inflamed. Often resulting in pain or weakness with certain movements of the shoulder depending on where the cuff is affected.
How’s it diagnosed
Diagnosis can be based on symptoms, however may need an ultrasound to confirm.
Rotator cuff tendinopathy can present in a wide variety of populations. It can also present acutely or chronically. People at risk are anyone who performs overhead activities regularly, and athletes particularly those in throwing sports, which is more likely to present in a chronic tendinopathy whereas acutely it can also be brought on by direct blow to a shoulder.
In the short-term, treatment may involve some minor soft tissue work to help reduce pain and stiffness. Often activity modification early on would be required to also help get symptoms under control. Early on we would begin loading to challenge the structures to create adaptation, which in turn creates more tissue robustness. As the symptoms settle activity would also be increased at an appropriate level of tolerance. Loading the structures would promote long term recovery and ensuring the rest of the shoulder is strong to decrease the chance of recurrence.