Comprised of four muscles, the rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles that envelope the shoulder joint. The main role of the rotator cuff is to maintain a firm yet flexible hold of your upper arm within the shoulder socket. 

When a rotator cuff injury happens, it can be incredibly nagging and painful. It may leave you feeling sidelined from performing the simplest of daily tasks, working, and exercising. Typically, a dull ache in your shoulder is felt, which becomes ten times worse if you are a side sleeper.

Rotator Cuff Problems

Rotator cuff injuries can result in reduced range of motion, weakness, and long-lasting pain.

Before another rotator cuff injury occurs, first take the necessary precautions. The secret to preventing rotator cuff injuries is having adequate thoracic mobility and well-balanced scapulae musculature

What Are the Rotator Cuff Muscles?

Rather than diving straight into injury prevention, you first need to know which muscles you are dealing with. 

Supraspinatus Infraspinatus Teres Minor

Supraspinatus

This muscle rests on top of the shoulder blade (scapula) and helps raise the arm out to the side (laterally). Moreover, the supraspinatus assists with the other muscles to provide overall rotator cuff stability. 

Unfortunately, this muscle has the highest chance of being strained or torn compared to the rest of the group. Along with that, the supraspinatus is also most likely to develop an inflamed condition known as tendonitis. 

Infraspinatus

This muscle sits flush and squarely on the back of the shoulder blade. Its main purpose is to help rotate the upper arm bone (humerus) externally. Most people have weaker external rotations than internal rotations because of the naturally uncomfortable makeup of the movement. 

Teres Minor

Working directly with the infraspinatus, teres minor assists with external rotation of the upper arm. This muscle is quite narrow and helps hold down the upper arm bone from sliding upward during abduction. 

Subscapularis

Subscapularis

The subscapularis sits right inside and in front of the shoulder blade, closer to the ribs. This muscle helps control internal rotation of the upper arm, which is the direct opposite job of the infraspinatus. 

How All 4 Rotator Cuff Muscles Work Together

Without question, these four muscles are much stronger working together. Each individual muscle of the rotator cuff is quite weak and would not fare well without the group’s total support.

Even though they are stronger in union, the rotator cuff is still known to be more unstable than most joints.

Rotator Cuff Anatomy

The increased freedom of mobility comes with a higher price for dislocation, tears, strains and other rotator cuff injuries.

After all, it is similar to lacrosse or tennis ball rolling around a small bowl – there is a good chance it might not always stay in place.

However, through proper prevention techniques and exercises, these four shoulder muscles can learn to work well in unison. 

How Rotator Cuff Injuries Occur

Workout Shoulder Injury

There are a handful of factors that lead to down the road of rotator cuff injury. Age, intense sports, physically demanding jobs, improper weightlifting, and genetics all can play major roles in rotator cuff health. 

As we all age, rotator cuff injuries become more and more apparent. People 40 and over deal with the most rotator cuff problems.

The bench press has a reputation for causing rotator cuff problems. But this is mostly due to bad form.

Repetitive arm motion sports such as tennis, cricket, baseball, basketball, and archery are known to cause acute or chronic rotator cuff issues.

Trade jobs such as carpentry, painting, electrical, and plumbing work can generate rotator cuff injuries or aggravate preexisting conditions. 

Without argument, improper use of machines and especially free weight at the gym can place a rotator cuff in a bad situation too. Rather than ego-lifting, focus on moving the weight smoother and better, as in good form.

Over time, if rotator cuff issues persist, there is a high possibility of shoulder muscle and tendon wasting. 

When it comes to recovery, remember that rest is necessary. Yet you still need to find a sweet spot that caters to both rest and light use.

Keep your rotator cuff lightly moving but not completely unused. If the shoulder becomes utterly powerless during your recovery period, this can cause connective tissue to freeze up and reverse your road to renewal.

Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms

Do you experience any of the following symptoms? These may be signs that your rotator cuff group is out of balance and injured.

•    Deep, long-lasting aches within the shoulder

•    Side-sleeping is painful on the affected shoulder

•    Daily tasks such as grooming, showering, running errands, etc. become difficult because of lack of mobility and pain

•    Arm may feel slightly numb or more weak than usual

How to Prevent Rotator Cuff Problems

If you have found yourself in a rough shoulder situation before, weekly prevention techniques such as stretching and strengthening are recommended. 

Even if you have not injured yourself before or it has been a very long time since your last rotator cuff injury, keeping the muscles fresh and strong is important.

Here are a few solid ways to prevent rotator cuff issues:

•    Stay away from repeated, fast overhead motions – especially if it causes shoulder pain

•    Kick the habit of side sleeping

•    Actively be aware of maintaining an overall good posture

•    Include thoracic mobility and complete rotator cuff strengthening exercises to your training regimen

Increase Thoracic Mobility and Muscle Balance

There are plenty of movements to choose from for creating more thoracic mobility such foam rolling and stretching.

When your thoracic mobility improves, your ability to fend off future rotator cuff imbalance and injury increases as well.

Working on thoracic mobility on a consistent basis can save you a lot of time, energy, and headache in the long run. It is never fun to deal with a rotator cuff injury situation.

As far as muscle imbalance, many lifters train their chest, triceps, front and side deltoids much more than these muscles’ counterparts.

The back of the shoulder and upper back is just as critical to train to find muscle equilibrium.

Plus, you can naturally combat slumped-over posture, also known as rounded shoulders, when your torso’s front and back has an equal amount of pull.

Alongside consistently practicing the best posture you can muster, nothing can stop you from dissolving lingering muscle imbalances. 

Conclusion

With a strong and stable rotator cuff you will have injury insurance for your shoulder.  Is this kind of training sexy?  No.  But do you want to be strong and powerful, or do you want to be sexy?

Too many lifters are focusing on the wrong things.  Yes!  I get it!  We all want to look good and perform at our best.  But you need to prioritize first.  

You won’t be able to look your best if your injured.  So really commit to the advice in this article.  Even bookmark it if you need to.  But don’t neglect it.  

Good luck!

P.S. If you liked this article please let me know by sharing it with a friend.  I would really appreciate it and it would really make my day!  Thanks!


Tony G
Tony G

Anthony is a fan of all things gym related. Growing up very overweight and out of shape, Anthony whipped himself into shape and stunned his entire community becoming a "fitness guru". Tony then set his sights on strength sports (Weightlifting/Powerlifting/Strongman) and learned all about body mechanics, mobility work and injury prevention. Tony found his true love in the strength sports, particularly Olympic Weightlifting. He earned a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from Fitchburg State University in Exercise and Sports Science. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the NSCA.

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