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The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, keeping the head of your upper arm bone firmly within the shallow socket of the shoulder. There are 4 muscles which make up the rotator cuff group of the shoulder (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis). 

Overloading the complex can result in a strain or tear of one of the rotator cuff muscles.  Tears may be partial or complete. A rotator cuff injury can cause a dull ache in the shoulder, which often worsens with use of the arm away from the body.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Sudden pain

  • Weakness Inability to lift the arm out in front or out to the side

  • Tenderness on palpation of the rotator cuff muscle

  • Muscle wasting

What Causes It?

  • Trauma (heavy lift/pull/push, fall)

  • Prolonged overuse

  • Repetitive wear and tear

  • Overhead sports (throwing, swimming, racquet sports)

How to Self Manage

  • R.I.C.E. protocol

  • Avoid aggravating activities (overhead activities, sleeping on affected side)

  • Seek an assessment and diagnosis, as surgery may be required


  • Ultrasound or MRI are the optimal investigations for a suspected rotator cuff tear.

  • Surgical repair may be warranted for severe tears.

  • Factors such as age, type of work, degree of sporting involvement, and degree of success with conservative management are all likely to be taken into consideration prior to surgical intervention.

How Physio Helps

  • Assessment of the rotator cuff muscles for weakness

  • Biomechanical review of shoulder and scapular function and stability

  • Prescribe an individualised program to improve stability and strength

  • Soft tissue massage and trigger point release

  • Acupuncture and dry needling

  • Referral for ultrasound or MRI to confirm diagnosis

  • Referral to an orthopaedic specialist for advice on management

For an online consultation click here
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