to strengthen what we know less of.
As strong as the human body is, it does have its weak points. The knee, rotate the wrong way with the foot planted and you will have the next number of weeks ahead of you rehabilitating your knee. The shoulder joint, tendons and muscles keeping the joint functioning, rotating. Without those tendons and muscles, your shoulder joint would be useless and your arm would be a limp limb just hanging there.
Because of this we need to take care of our shoulder joint, specifically the rotator cuff. An injured rotator cuff can result in weeks, months of pain and not being able to do the things you like to do.
What is it
What is the rotator cuff? The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles connecting the upper arm to the shoulder blade. The tendons provide stability while the muscles allow for movement. I’m going to get a little technical now and list the four muscles that comprise the rotator cuff:
- Supraspinatus – handles the movement of the arm away from the body. If you have injured this muscle, you will have trouble or pain when trying to move your arm away from your side for the first 15 degrees. After that, the deltoid (shoulder) muscles take over. To test this, have your arm at your side, holding a small weight and start to move your arm out from your body on a sideward plain, not out in front. If it’s painful at the start or within that 15 degrees, this could be your issue.
- Infraspinatus – handles lateral rotation of the arm. This is the rotation of your arm away from your body. Move your hand to your belly button, keeping the arm bent at the elbow. Now, rotate your hand out and away from your belly button keeping the elbow beside your side. Try doing this with some resistance. Does it hurt? This could be the issue.
- Teres Minor – also handles the lateral, or external rotation of the shoulder joint. If you had pain or discomfort when trying the movement for the infraspinatus muscle, it could also be due to a damaged Teres Minor muscle.
- Subscapularis – handles the movement opposite to the Teres Minor and Infraspinatus muscles. It is responsible for rotating the shoulder inward or towards the centre of the body. Keeping in mind the test we did for the Teres Minor and Infraspinatus muscles, instead of starting with your hand at your belly button, you are going to start with your hand at the ending position. Now with some resistance, rotate your shoulder so your hand is moving towards your belly button. If there is pain or discomfort, the Subscapularis could be damaged.
If you care to, a way to remember this is the word SITS. But, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. I think the important thing is to know when you possibly have injured your rotator cuff and what you can do to limit the risk of injury.
A great way to prevent injury is to not do the things that could cause injury. Second to that is to strengthen the muscles you are trying to prevent injury of.
So what things are you doing that can cause injury? Knowing that the shoulder joint is kept stable by the rotator cuff muscles and tendons, think of the effect of any shoulder press movement, especially behind the neck barbell press. This puts a tremendous strain on the rotator cuff and it is not necessary to do this exercise if you want to strengthen your shoulders. Lowering the bar too low when bench pressing can cause damage. When bench pressing, the downward motion should stop when the elbows are in line with the shoulders, not below the shoulders.
Just like the behind the neck shoulder press can cause injury, so can behind the neck pull downs. Make sense, doesn’t it. Poor posture can also cause injury. Slumping forward can cause the pinching of muscles or tendons. This is why it’s important to set the shoulder girdle be it when exercising or not.
My strength is working with people and explaining how to carry out various exercises, not so much trying to explain them on paper. So I’m not going to. If you would like to know what exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles that need it, search the muscle name and ‘exercise’. Stick with reputable web sites to see what options there are. Or you can engage the services of a personal trainer to show you what you can do. Remember, you do not have to commit to a personal trainer long term, it could be only for a few sessions if that is what you need to get back on your feet.
One thing I will recommend when working out your rotator cuff is to use bands. The advantage is that you always have resistance no matter what the position is or where you are in the range of motion of that exercise whereas with weights, the weight needs to move against the pull of gravity.
Take it easy
Your rotator cuff muscles are small and can injure easily. Take care of them and you won’t be putting your favorite activities off due to injury.
Don’t get caught up in numbers. Train smart and train injury free.
Yours in health,