The rotator cuff is a piece of engineering genius. It is a group of four small muscles that are located in our shoulder and hold the joint together allowing us the wide range of movement that we enjoy in our shoulder. They all start on the shoulder blade and connect to the head of the humerus keeping it pressed against the socket of the shoulder joint.
If you have a healthy shoulder you should be able to swing it in a 360 degree arc in almost any direction. The only thing that stops you is that your body gets in the way. This is due to the fact that the socket of the ball and socket shoulder joint is extremely shallow. It resembles a golf tee with the ball of the arm bone sitting on top of it in a shallow depression. It is the rotator cuff that does the majority of the work in holding the joint together as you swing your arms around.
It pulls the arm into this socket whenever you lift something. There are four small muscles that make up the rotator cuff and despite them being so important to us we nearly all tend to neglect them with potentially disastrous results.
If it is weak we can not lift as well, we are at risk of shoulder injuries like dislocations, strains and sprains. Weakness of the rotator cuff puts extra load on other muscles and when you think that there are seventeen different muscles involved in moving the shoulder there is a lot of potential for injury when we neglect this group of muscles.
Because we use the rotator cuff all the time without thinking it is a group of muscles that is prone to injury. Any injury to the rotator cuff can cause swelling and because it is made up of four closely connected muscles there is always an opportunity for inflamed muscles to get pinched by bones and other muscles causing severe shoulder pain and further damage.
A rotator cuff injury can be debilitating with severe pain not only in the shoulder but also running down the arm. Classic symptoms are restricted movement especially when reaching overhead or behind you. The pain can worsen in time as once the muscles become inflamed they can catch on the bones of the shoulder causing further injury and inflammation.
Traditional treatment of rotator cuff injuries involves anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers followed by physiotherapy to restore the strength of the shoulder joint. If the damage is severe surgery may be needed to repair damaged tendons or to free up trapped tendons although this is comparatively rare.