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All about your rotator cuff

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All about your rotator cuff

File this under “everything you always wanted to know about your shoulder (but were afraid to ask)”: What is the rotator cuff? What does it mean if you’ve torn it? Why is it important for your massage therapist to work on it?

The rotator cuff isn’t ligament, bone, or cartilage; it’s actually the name for a group of four shoulder muscles. These muscles run from different parts of the shoulder blade to the upper arm, three of which help to rotate your arm. The individual muscles are pretty small when compared to the biceps or pecs, but they’re mighty. When all four of them act together, they act as a cuff for your shoulder joint, keeping it snugly together.

If you’ve ever been told that you’ve torn your rotator cuff, that can mean a lot of things. This usually describes a partial tear of the muscle tissue or tendon, resulting from a sudden trauma or from repetitive use. While a tear might sound scary, it can often be treated conservatively with exercise and rest. Your doctor will determine the best course of treatment during the acute stage.

Why should your massage therapist be familiar with these muscles? Because tension in the rotator cuff is common, and because its effects can be far-reaching. These muscles assist every time you move your arm, often acting as stabilizers, and they can become tight and irritated with overuse. Every time you manipulate an object in front of your body (interacting with a computer, lifting your child, cleaning your house), your rotator cuff muscles have to contract repeatedly.

Over time, these muscles can become quite tense. This is usually silent, with the only symptom being pain on the front of the shoulder, or pain/spasm when trying to lift the arm or place it behind the back. Even without these symptoms, rotator cuff tightness may be contributing to upper back and neck pain. By constantly exerting tension between the arm and the shoulder blade, they get into a “tug-of-war” with the upper back muscles.

Massage can help, so make sure that your massage therapist is interacting with your shoulder blade in some way! Between massages, give your shoulders plenty of opportunities to lose some of their tension. That means stretching in new ways (up toward the ceiling, out to either side, behind your back), and taking breaks when you’ve been doing one activity for over an hour. We can talk about specific ways to stretch when you come see me, and I can do plenty of work to iron the area out. Let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for reading!

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