Rotator Cuff Related Shoulder Pain

What is Rotator Cuff Related Shoulder Pain?

“Rotator Cuff Related Shoulder Pain”

The rotator cuff is made up of a group of muscles that help keep the head of the humerus bone (‘the ball’) in the shoulder socket.  The rotator cuff muscles are also involved in moving your arm up and out to the side and rotating the shoulder.

“Rotator cuff related shoulder pain” is commonly seen with people who perform repetitive overhead activities such as painters, swimmers, tennis players etc. “Rotator cuff related shoulder pain” can also develop after a one-off event such as a fall or a quick jolt.

People who have “rotator cuff related shoulder” pain may have pain on the outside of the upper arm that is usually made worse when lifting the arm overhead.  It can also be painful to lie on the affected side.  In more severe cases, the pain may be constant, rather than only on specific movements. 

Types of Rotator Cuff injuries

Injuries to the rotator cuff muscles and/or tendons are quite common.  Anytime we use our hands and arms for any day to day task or sport, we are simultaneously using our shoulder muscles.  Injuries to the rotator cuff can occur at any age.  As well as the rotator cuff muscle and tendon complex, there are other structures in the shoulder that can cause pain.  Here are three of the more common causes of “rotator cuff related shoulder pain”.

1: Rotator Cuff tendinopathy

Tendinopathy can be acute (recent occurance) or chronic (lasting for weeks or months).  It is where there is degeneration or inflammation of the tendons, which causes pain.  This may be caused in some cases by repetitive overhead activities, a recent increase in shoulder exercise, or even a return to previous levels of activity, after a long period of inactivity.

2: Rotator Cuff tear, partial or full-thickness

This is where one of the rotator cuff muscles or tendons tear partially or fully.  This can happen due to a trauma, degeneration, or indeed from repeated microtraumas.  

3: Bursitis / sub acromial pain / impingement

You may hear the above terms in relation to shoulder pain.  Sometimes in reports such as an MRI report, bursitis may be reported, or sub-acromial impingement.  A recently published International Consensus Paper (Requejo-Salinas, Lewis et al, 2022) recommended that the above three terms were not clinically useful and that the term “Rotator Cuff Related Shoulder Pain” be an overarching term to include ‘bursitis’ and ‘impingement’.

Can Physio help?

Yes! We will start with a comprehensive assessment.  This is important so that we determine the reason for your shoulder pain, and start you on the right path to recovery.

Rehabilitation for “rotator cuff related shoulder pain” often involves a combination of manual therapy, and a graduated programme of strengthening exercises.  The exercises will be sepecific to you, depending on your contributing factors.  The exercise programme is not a ‘one-size fits all’ approach.

We will also investigate lifestyle factors specific to you (ergonomics, sports technique, posture, sleep etc.), so that your rehabilitation programme is tailor made, giving you the best possible results.

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