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Rotator Cuff

What is the rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that surround the shoulder joint.  Their primary purpose is to stabilize the head of the humerus (big upper arm bone).  When dysfunctional or torn, the function of the shoulder joint is compromised and often painful.

Like all strains, a rotator cuff strain is graded from I-III.  Grade I is mild with minimal tissue damage/tearing and Grade III is completely torn.   Grade III rotator cuff tears will typically be considered for surgical repair before rehabilitation, while less severe strains may respond to conservative rehabilitation alone.

It is also possible to have dysfunction in the shoulder joint and rotator cuff muscles without significant tearing/tissue damage.  This would not be a surgical indication and is typically managed conservatively.

Common Symptoms

The most common symptoms of a torn or damaged rotator cuff include:

  • Pain at rest, particularly if lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain when lifting and lowering arm with specific movements
  • Weakness when lifting or rotating the arm
  • Loss of range of motion in your shoulder

When your rotator cuff is injured, you lose the ability to move your arm or shoulder.  It may become intensely painful or physically impossible to move your arm to the side or upward.


The two main causes of a rotator cuff tear are injury and degeneration.  An injury may happen suddenly when falling or it may develop over time due to repetitive activities.  Rotator cuff tears may also occur due to tissue degeneration.


In the treatment of the rotator cuff, soft tissue therapies like Active Release Technique (ART), Acupuncture and Graston therapy can help to restore mobility and stimulate healing.

Adjustments to the related joint segments in your neck, upper back and shoulders that are not moving properly helps to restore motion.  Through strength-building exercises, we can help to rehabilitate your rotator cuff and get you moving again.  It is important to consider lifestyle contributions to your injury and if there are any lifestyle changes that could be made to reduce the chance of recurrence or further damage to the tissue.  This may include adjusting a number of habits including, but not limited to: work (limiting certain tasks), exercise regimes and nutrition.

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