All About the Rotator Cuff
We all need to take a second to examine the most frequently injured area of the shoulders: the rotator cuff. The muscles that make up the rotator cuff are small and can be strained easily.
The four small muscles that make up the rotator cuff:
- teres minor
Each of these smaller muscles can easily be strained, pulled, or even sometimes overtrained. So important are each of the muscles of the rotator cuff, that once one muscle is damaged the whole cuff is thrown into disarray, often requiring rehab.
Rotator cuff injuries result from:
- relative weakness
- muscular imbalance
- poor form
- ego lifting (the weight is too heavy!)
These four muscles aid in all overhead and rotational movements at the shoulder.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
For people who play sports that have overhead motions such as baseball, softball, swimming, and tennis, your shoulder is very susceptible to injuries.
Common rotator cuff injuries include:
- AC separation
- clavicle fractures
- partial and full tears
Tendonitis is the most common injury from overhead movements.
Bursitis and tendonitis can both be caused when the space between the rotator cuff and the acromion is narrowed, which results in the rotator cuff tendons and overlying bursa getting squeezed.
The very worst case scenario of rotator cuff injuries would be the partial and full tears. These types of injuries normally require surgery, can set any athlete back 6 months or more in their training, and can sometimes result in retirement from professional sports.
How to Strengthen the Rotator Cuff
Many types of exercises can be preformed to specifically rehabs and strengthen the rotator cuff. These exercises must be done with light weight, bands, or tubing. Using heavy weights for rotator cuff exercises can very easily cause problems or make existing problems worse.
Common exercises that are usually done for the rotator cuff include:
- internal rotation
- external rotation
One of the best rotator cuff strengthening exercises that I know of, is called the shoulder roll (video – front view).
|images & video courtesy bodybuilding.com|
If you feel you have injured your rotator cuff you should get it checked by your physician before you do anything else. Continuing to exercise or play sports with a rotator cuff injury could aggravate the injury and cause worse problems, or ultimately result in a muscle tear from poor form or function.
One of the most comprehensive articles that I have found online is called Shoulder Fix-It 101. You should read this repeatedly until you absorb and understand it.
Exercises To Avoid
Use a weight that you can control throughout each movement with a full range of motion using the proper form and technique in order to minimize injuries. Partial reps and explosive movements in the contraindicated exercises listed below, will put undue stress on the shoulders.
Exercises that could compromise the health of your rotator cuff include any exercises behind the neck:
- behind the neck shoulder presses (the most common cause of rotator cuff injuries in the gym)
- behind the neck pull downs
- behind the neck pull ups
These movements put unnecessary stress on the rotator cuff and can easily cause an injury due to the external rotation of the shoulder.
- When performing shoulder presses you should lower the bar in front of your face.
- When preforming pull downs you should bring the bar to your chest.
- When performing pull ups it is advisable to keep the bar in front of your face, although this exercise is less risky than the other two.
Be proactive in strengthening your rotator cuff even before you have the symptoms of a shoulder injury.
Use band work and warm ups with light weight before performing shoulder exercises, chest exercises, and back exercises to help prevent problems before an injury can arise.
Learn more about training the rotator cuffs by checking out Effective Rotator Cuff Exercises by my friend Rick Kaselj, an expert on the subject!