Teri Elliott Burke

How to Prevent Rotator Cuff Injuries

June 24, 2021

Teri Elliott-Burke, PT, D.P.T., M.H.S., WCS, College of Health Sciences, Physical Therapy Institute

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and corresponding tendons that work to keep the shoulder joint stable and allow for arm movement. Rotator cuff pain can occur when there are tears and/or inflammation in the muscles and tendons. These are often caused by repeated overhead activity, a fall on an outstretched arm, or other forms of trauma. Athletes, construction workers, and older adults are all especially susceptible to these types of injuries.

Symptoms are typically described as pain with activity, dull pain at rest, and pain that extends down to the elbow. Some may notice discomfort when doing activities such as putting on a seatbelt, reaching up in a cupboard, or throwing. Left untreated these injuries can lead to increased pain, weakness, and an overall decreased function of the shoulder and arm.

Ways to prevent rotator cuff injuries:

  • Practice good posture when sitting or standing. Letting shoulders slump forward places stress on the rotator cuff.
  • Avoid repetitive overhead use of the shoulder when possible or take frequent breaks if you are doing an activity, such as painting a high wall or ceiling.
  • Perform physical therapist-approved exercises for the rotator cuff and shoulder blade.
  • Avoid a sedentary lifestyle and stay active.

Should you experience shoulder pain, the first line of defense is to consult a physical therapist. Physical therapists can identify and treat the issues contributing to the rotator cuff problem, which may include muscles in the neck, upper back, and shoulder blade. Treatment often improves the function of the shoulder while decreasing pain.

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