How to Prevent Rotator Cuff Injuries

how to prevent rotator cuff injuries

It’s football season! This time of year is when many of us gather with our loved ones to watch a good game. Some of you may even plan a quick pick up game of tag football during half-time. Are your shoulders ready for some football? Our rotator cuff is a very important part of our shoulder that helps raises and rotate our arms. Below you will learn more about the anatomy of a rotator cuff, common injuries, what a rotator cuff injury feels like, how to prevent injuries, and how physical therapy can help. Make sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook for exercise videos that will help strengthen your shoulders. If you or someone you know has shoulder pain, give us a call or visit one of our clinics! Located in Merced and Atwater, CA.

What is a Rotator Cuff?

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The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles and their tendons (tissues that attach muscles to bones), which connect the upper arm bone, or humerus, to the shoulder blade. The important job of the rotator cuff is to keep the shoulder joint stable. Sometimes, the rotator cuff becomes inflamed or irritated due to heavy lifting, repetitive arm movements, or trauma such as a fall.

  • Supraspinatus. This holds your humerus in place and keeps your upper arm stable. And helps lift your arm.
  • Infraspinatus. This is the main muscle that lets you rotate and extend your shoulder.
  • Teres Minor. This is the smallest rotator cuff muscle. Its main job is to assist with the rotation of the arm away from the body.
  • Subscapularis. This holds your upper arm bone to your shoulder blade and helps you rotate your arm, hold it straight out and lower it

Common Injuries

A rotator cuff tear is often the result of wear and tear from daily use. You’re more likely to have this if you have a job where you need to move your arm a certain way over and over. For example, a quarterback that has to constantly practice throwing a football. It also can happen suddenly if you fall on your arm or try to lift something heavy.

Tendinitis is inflammation or irritation of a tendon that attaches to a bone. It causes pain in the area just outside the joint.

Bursitis is when the bursa (a small sac filled with fluid that protects your rotator cuff gets irritated. That can happen when you repeat the same motion over and over again, like throwing a football or lifting something over your head. It also can be caused by an infection.

How Does it Feel?

People with rotator cuff injuries can experience:

  • Pain over the top of the shoulder or down the outside of the arm
  • Shoulder weakness
  • Loss of shoulder motion
  • A feeling of weakness or heaviness in the arm
  • Inability to lift the arm to reach up, or reach behind the back
  • Inability to perform common daily activities due to pain and limited motion

Can these Injuries be Prevented?

To maintain shoulder health and prevent rotator cuff tears, physical therapists recommend that you:

  • Avoid repeated overhead arm positions that may cause shoulder pain.
  • Apply rotator-cuff muscle and shoulder-blade strengthening exercises into your normal exercise routine.
  • Practice good posture. A forward position of the head and shoulders has been shown to alter shoulder-blade position and create shoulder impingement syndrome.
  • Avoid sleeping on your side with your arm stretched overhead, or lying on your shoulder. These positions can begin the process that causes rotator cuff damage and may be associated with increasing your pain level.
  • Avoid smoking; it can decrease the blood flow to your rotator cuff.
  • Consult a physical therapist at the first sign of symptoms.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

Once a rotator cuff tear has been diagnosed, you will work with your orthopedist and physical therapist to decide if you should have surgery or if you can try to manage your recovery without surgery. If you don’t need surgery, your physical therapist will work with you to restore your range of motion, muscle strength, and coordination, so that you can return to your regular activities. In some cases, you may learn to modify your physical activity so that you put less stress on your shoulder. If you decide to have surgery, your physical therapist can help you both before and after the procedure. Regardless of which treatment you decide to go with, early treatment can help you speed the healing process and avoid permanent damage.


Reminder, if you feel like you are having symptoms like the ones mentioned above, then contact us today! It is our passion to help everyone get back to their sport, work, and daily activities with no pain or discomfort.



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Created by: Margarita Perez, Director of Public Health Program Developer

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