Rotator cuff injuries are a common source of shoulder pain and discomfort, affecting a significant number of individuals, from athletes to those engaged in routine daily activities. The rotator cuff is a group of four tendons and muscles that surround the shoulder joint, playing a crucial role in stabilizing and facilitating various shoulder movements. In this blog, we will explore the anatomy of the rotator cuff, the causes and types of injuries, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and preventive measures to promote shoulder health.
Anatomy of the rotator cuff
The rotator cuff is made of four muscles that originate at the shoulder blade and attaches to the bone of the upper part of the arm. The four muscles of the rotator cuff are: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. These muscles work together to provide stability to the shoulder joint and enable a range of motions, including lifting, rotating, and reaching. The tendons of these muscles form a cuff around the head of the humerus, which is the upper arm bone.
Four Rotator Cuff Muscles
- Supraspinatus Muscle
- Infraspinatus Muscle
- Subscapularis Muscle
- Teres Minor Muscle
Most common muscle injured
Out of the four muscles the supraspinatus muscle is particularly prone to injury due to its anatomical location and the demands placed on it during certain activities. Situated in the shoulder joint as part of the rotator cuff, the supraspinatus tendon passes through a narrow space beneath the acromion, a bony projection of the shoulder blade. This subacromial space is susceptible to impingement, where the tendon can be compressed or irritated, leading to injury.
The muscle actively engages in overhead arm movements, commonly involved in activities like throwing, lifting, or reaching. Repetitive use of the shoulder in these motions, especially in sports or occupations that require overhead movement, can result in overuse injuries and strain on the supraspinatus.
Pain affecting the supraspinatus muscle can be felt at the very top of the shoulder, the front of the shoulder, and the outer aspects of the arm. Pain is common when lifting arm, reaching, or throwing. For some, pain is more severe at night when the body is trying to relax.
Healing rotator cuff injuries
Rotator cuff injuries often take a relatively long time to heal due to several factors related to the nature of the injury, the anatomy of the shoulder, and other challenges associated with the healing process. Here are key reasons why rotator cuff injuries may have an extended healing time:
Limited blood supply
Tendons, including those of the rotator cuff, have a relatively poor blood supply compared to muscles. Blood carries essential nutrients and oxygen necessary for tissue repair. The limited blood flow to the injured area can slow down the delivery of these crucial elements, prolonging the healing process.
The shoulder is a complex joint with a wide range of motion, allowing for various arm movements. The rotator cuff tendons operate in a confined space beneath the acromion, and their intricate positioning makes them susceptible to impingement and compression, slowing down the healing process.
Chronic Overuse and Repetitive Stress
Rotator cuff injuries often result from chronic overuse, repetitive stress, or degenerative changes over time. Unlike acute injuries, which may heal more quickly, chronic injuries require addressing underlying issues and modifying habits or activities that contribute to the injury.
Severity of the Injury
The extent and severity of the rotator cuff injury play a significant role in determining the healing time. Full-thickness tears or extensive damage to the tendons may require a more extended period for repair and rehabilitation compared to partial tears or less severe injuries.
Acupuncture for rotator cuff injuries
Acupuncture is a unique form of treatment for rotator cuff injuries. Most people go to their medical doctor for pain in the shoulder with treatment consisting of surgery, if it’s severe, pain medication, and a referral to a physical therapist. Although each treatment can help, acupuncture has to ability to actually increase blood flow to the area, reduce inflammation, and manage pain.
There’s no other treatment that has this ability.
Acupuncture can improve blood flow to the tendons:
Acupuncture can enhance blood circulation to the affected shoulder area. Improved blood flow can facilitate the delivery of nutrients and oxygen, supporting the natural healing processes of the injured rotator cuff tendons.
Acupuncture can reduce inflammation:
Acupuncture has anti-inflammatory effects. By targeting specific acupuncture points, it can modulate the inflammatory response in the injured area, reducing swelling and inflammation associated with rotator cuff injuries.
Acupuncture can manage pain from rotator cuff injuries:
Acupuncture has been reported to have analgesic (pain-relieving) effects by stimulating the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. For individuals with rotator cuff injuries experiencing pain, acupuncture can help alleviate discomfort.
Acupuncture, just like physical therapy, must be administered in a series of treatments. Treatment frequency depends on the severity of the rotator cuff injury and an acute vs chronic injury. Healing rotator cuff injuries will take time because of the complicated structure, however, acupuncture will undoubtedly speed up the healing process.
For more information about your rotator cuff injury and treatment options with acupuncture, call now or schedule your initial appointment today.