Rotator Cuff Strain

In the rotator cuff region there are four muscles, tendons and ligaments, surrounding the shoulder which provide added stability to the shoulder joint. This structure helps to keep the bone securely placed into the socket. Injury to the rotator cuffs can cause an ache like pain in the shoulder. This may lead to a feeling of muscle weakness and inability to lift the shoulder above the head. 

Rotator cuff injuries are most commonly presented in people regularly exposed to overhead movements, such as painters, carpenters and builders. Individuals who suffer from this injury can usually manage their symptoms, through sports massage and specific exercises focusing on the rotator cuff muscle region. However, if not treated correctly, further injury to the area may occur such as a complete tear, which may result in surgery.


The rotator cuffs are made up by four muscles, these are the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis. These muscles aid in keeping the upper arm and shoulder into the socket with stability. They also each allow specific movements at the shoulder joint. The group of four muscles all originate within the shoulder blade, but all insert into different portions of the upper arm bone. 

Supraspinatus: This muscle originates at the supraspinous fossa; the muscle belly passes laterally over the acromion process and inserts into the greater tubercle of the humerus bone. This muscle allows the first 15 degree’s movement of abduction, after this the deltoid and trapezius muscles will then allow further motion. 

Infraspinatus: The origin of the infraspinatus is the infraspinatus fossa, and the insertion is also the greater tubercle of the humerus. The motion created by this muscle is lateral rotation of the shoulder, moving the arm away from the centreline of the body. 

Teres Minor: A small narrow muscle on the back of the shoulder blade which sits underneath the infraspinatus. The origin is the lateral boarder of the scapula. This muscle contributes to external rotation of the arm of the body. 

Subscapularis: This rotator cuff is the strongest and largest out of the three listed above. This muscle originates at the subscapularis fossa and inserts into the lesser tubercle of the humerus. The subscapularis allows greater motion at the shoulder and mainly aids in allowing medial rotation of the arm. 


Common symptoms of possible rotator cuff strain include:

  • Dull ache 
  • Difficulty lifting arm over head 
  • Weakness around the shoulder
  • Disturbed sleep
  • The constant need to use self-myofascial techniques 


There are a few common risk factors of why rotator strain may occur:

  1. Family History: There may be family history of rotator cuff injuries which may make certain family members more prone to having the injury than others. 
  2. The type of job you do: Individuals who work in construction or manual labour who have repetitive overhead movement of the shoulder could damage the rotator cuff overtime. 
  3. Age: As you get older joints and muscles become weaker, meaning you may be more prone to injury overtime. 


To diagnose a rotator cuff strain a physical examination will be carried out by a doctor or a physiotherapist. Firstly, they may ask about your day-to-day activities which may determine the seriousness of the injury. The doctor will test the range of movement at the shoulder by getting you to perform movements such as flexion, extension, abduction, adduction and medial and lateral rotation. This will allow the doctor to determine if it is actually rotator cuff strain or whether it may be other conditions such as impingement or tendinitis. 

Imaging scans such as X-Ray’s may also be used to see if there is any abnormal bone growth within the joint, which may be causing the pain. 


Treatments for rotator cuff injuries can be non-surgical or surgical. Tendinitis may occur over time from the repetitive strain placed around the joint, so it is important to treat the affected area. 

  • Apply a cold compress/ ice to the effected area to reduce swelling
  • Heat packs can be used to reduce swelling 
  • Resting the affected area 
  • Inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen and naproxen 
  • Reduce the amount of repetitive movement to the joint
  • Don’t lift the arm overhead


  • Doorway Stretch 
  • External rotation with weight
  • High to low rows with resistance band 
  • Reverse fly’s 
  • Lawn mower pull with resistance band 
  • Isometric internal rotation 
  • Isometric external rotation