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The Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists

The Rotator Cuff -What is it?

What is “The Rotator Cuff”?

Most of us have all heard about the “rotator cuff” through a friend or family member
who has a sore shoulder. Or maybe your own GP has told you that you have a rotator cuff injury.
But what is the rotator cuff?

The shoulder joint is very shallow in nature.
It has been described to be like a golf ball sitting on a golf tee, thus making it a shallow joint, unlike the hip joint that is very deep.

Therefore, the shoulder needs extra support from the muscles and structures
around it. This is where the rotator cuff plays its part.

Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles which attach the scapula (shoulder blade) to the upper arm via tendons. Its job is to help keep the shoulder within the
socket/joint while allowing efficient shoulder movement in various directions.
There are four muscles included in the rotator cuff family and they are Supraspinatus,
Infraspinatus, Teres minor and Subscapularis.

Commonly, when people get a sore shoulder, most of the time it is due to an injury to one or more of these muscles.

Rotator cuff related shoulder pain is an over-arching term that encompasses a
spectrum of shoulder conditions that include subacromial pain (impingement)
syndrome, bursitis, rotator cuff tendinopathy, and symptomatic partial and full
thickness rotator cuff tears.

Rotator cuff related shoulder pain is a common
occurrence affecting millions of people across all the globe. It can occur for various
reasons including a history of trauma (e.g. a fall), muscle weakness, posture,
occupational dispositions, or age-related degenerative changes.

As with a lot of injuries being over 60 years old may increase your risk of developing rotator cuff
related shoulder pain.
A history of smoking, diabetes or thyroid dysfunction can also delay the healing process.
Unfortunately, shoulder injuries can take weeks to months to resolve which can be very frustrating, but through appropriate exercise and advise given to you by your physiotherapist, improvement is achievable.

Attending a physiotherapist for help with your shoulder can be of great benefit to  you. We will aim to figure out why your shoulder has been causing you pain in the first place and then come up with an individual plan with the aim of getting you back
on track as best we can. Usually, we need to first calm down the pain, regain the
range or motion and then focus on increasing the strength of the shoulder.

If you happen to have a rotator cuff repair operation, which is when the surgeon will
stitch your torn tendon back together, you can expect to be in a sling for a number of
weeks followed by 16+ weeks of rehab. Signs and symptoms of a torn rotator cuff
include a pain when lifting your arm out to the side and overhead, night pain and the

inability to lie on that shoulder.

If you are experiencing any shoulder pain your local Chartered Physiotherapist can
help by educating you and providing you with suitable exercises.


by Darragh Bolton
Chartered Physiotherapist

Get in touch with us at Galway Bay Physio on 091 569 706 or visit us at to book an appointment.


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