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The Rotator Cuff Can Be Vulnerable to Pain and Injury

Your shoulder is a marvelously designed piece of human machinery, and yet it is also vulnerable to pain and injury.

Rotator cuff injury is especially common and painful to deal with. Some basic pain management strategies along with an exercise program are beneficial in coping with and recovering from a harmed shoulder joint. In more extreme or persistent cases, surgical measures may have to be taken.

Basic Facts About the Shoulder

The shoulder is among the largest and most complicated joints in the whole human body. It is a ball and socket type joint formed by the upper arm bone (humerus) connecting to the shoulder blade (scapula). The socket is a cup inside of a ring of cartilage (the labrum). Four individual muscles surround the shoulder joint and are known collectively as the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff strengthens and protects the humerus-shoulder blade connection and gives the arm a wide range of possible motion. This freedom of motion unfortunately also entails a certain vulnerability to injury, and this accounts for the fact that some 30% of adults will experience shoulder pain at some point in their lives.

Shoulder Pain and Its Causes

Lifting objects too heavy to handle or with faulty posture, slips and falls, auto, workplace, or at-home accidents, or sports injuries are all possible sources of shoulder pain or injury. Over-exerting oneself or over-using the shoulder can lead to strains, pains, dislocation, pinched nerves, or frozen shoulder (rotator cuff injury).

Rotator Cuff Problems

The uppermost muscle of the rotator cuff (the supraspinatus) is one of the most commonly sore or harmed parts of the shoulder joint. The supraspinatus’ tendon runs underneath the shoulder blade (specifically, under the acromion) and is liable to become pinched between the two acromion and clavicle- the two bones that make up the shoulder blade. The tendon will then become inflamed. This condition leads to severe pain on the front and outside of the shoulder and prevents one from raising their arm or lifting an object above the head without increasing the intensity of the pain. It is common for persons with damaged rotator cuffs or tendons to have trouble sleeping, the pain is so acute, and the simplest tasks become a great challenge.

Things You Can Do to Alleviate the Pain

First of all you should give your shoulder an “active rest,” keeping it from all heavy lifting and strenuous activities but not retiring it into total disuse. Second, the application of moist heat or ice to the affected area can help reduce pain. Third, ibuprofen or some other non-steroidal anti-inflammation medication can help. Fourth, on occasion, it may be advisable to inject anti-inflammation steroids such as cortico-steroids into the localized pain source.

Exercises You Can Do to Aid Recovery

The first type of exercise to use in any shoulder pain rehabilitation therapy is range-of-motion exercise. Begin by rotating your arm at the shoulder in small circles and continue increasing circle size until you are moving in large circles. Once you can handle range-of-motion exercises, the next step is to move on to resistance exercises which aim to strengthen rotator cuff muscles. Finally, the last step is the use of weight lifting with machines or free weights. Additionally, aerobics can help by increasing blood circulation to the tendons and thus reducing soreness.

The Possible Need for Surgery

If tendons or ligaments are torn, or if the rotator cuff is badly hurt, it is likely that surgical correction will be necessary. In still other cases, where rehabilitation techniques and programs seem to be failing and the arm remains weak when it makes particular motions, it may become apparent that shoulder surgery is the answer.


Shoulder pain is a common problem that is treatable through a combination of pain reduction measures, physical training, and surgical procedures. The shoulder itself is a complicated and extremely large joint that connects the humerus to the shoulder blade while allowing for a generous movement and rotation capability. This free motion sometimes leads to over-extension or spraining. Other times, sudden impacts during sports events or due to a car crash or other accident create shoulder problems that require adequate time and intelligent care to recover from. The rotator cuff and its tendon have a highly important job to perform in protecting the shoulder joint and moving the upper arm, and normally they perform it quite well, but this part of the shoulder is also probably the most prone to injury. Those with persistent or acute shoulder pain should consult their physician and ask for an examination.

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