Friday, January 4, 2013

Ahhh...the rotator cuff.

We all hear a lot about it, and they get injured a lot with professional athletes (especially baseball players - pitchers, in particular).  But for most people, the anatomy and mechanics of the rotator cuff remain a mystery.  I've even encountered this in clients who have had rotator cuff tears and subsequent surgeries.  Either their doctor never took the time to explain it to them, or they forgot.

But even if you aren't a professional athlete and even if you haven't severly injured your rotator cuff, there's a pretty decent chance that yours is harboring some limitations and giving you some grief.  Have an itch in between your shoulder blades?  Can you scratch it easily?  With both hands?  If your answer is no (as mine is at the moment), then your rotator cuff most likely has some restriction.

The tricky thing with rotator cuff issues is that they are often elusive and sometimes present pain in less than obvious ways.  Sometimes, dysfunction in the muscles of the rotator cuff  present pain or weakness in the attachments of the muscles or even in the referral zones of rotator cuff trigger points.  This can mean pain anywhere around the shoulder joint, along the edge of the shoulder blade, and even down the arm to the wrist.  Most frequently, when I am able to trace a client's pain back to a rotator cuff issue, they report pain or weakness in movements that include even just a little bit of rotation of the shoulder.  Sometimes the rotational component of those movements can be subtle and difficult to identify, such as with the rollover movement of olympic lifts, or the combination of slight rotation and rotational stabilization of an overhead press.

With limitations of the rotator cuff, you might have impaired performance in any of those movements, and a whole host of other movements.  You may also be at increased risk for injury, if you find yourself in a situation that calls for a good, strong range of motion in the shoulder - including nonathletic situations (I once met someone who tore his rotator cuff slipping and falling on a gravel driveway with a slope).  In order to minimize your risk for injury, you should also seek to strengthen the rotator cuff, and to strengthen it through the entire range of motion.

So, if you are experiencing any odd pains or weak spots in your shoulder movements, ask yourself if you are doing any rotation of the shoulder? If so, then try the stretches in the video below.  If the stretches don't do the trick, consider booking a massage, or at least getting into the accessible rotator cuff muscles with a lacrosse ball or other self-massage tool, like the Theracane.  If nothing else, don't you want to be able to scratch your own back?