How can massage help with a rotator cuff injury?

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, keeping the head of your upper arm bone firmly within the shallow socket of the shoulder.

A rotator cuff injury can cause a dull ache either in the front or back of the shoulder, which often worsens when you try to sleep on the involved side or try to use it under load.

Rotator cuff injuries occur most often in people who repeatedly perform overhead motions in their jobs or sports. Examples include painters, carpenters, and people who play baseball or tennis. However, it's also very common for people who are inactive to obtain a rotator cuff injury through reaching for things at an unusual angle, such as reaching into the back seat of a car for a bag.

The risk of rotator cuff injury also increases with age. Injuries can also occur due your sleep position - again, particularly as we age.

Many people recover from rotator cuff injury with physical therapy exercises that improve flexibility and strength of the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint.

The pain associated with a rotator cuff injury may:

  • Be described as a dull ache deep in the shoulder (with or without movement) - or a sharp pain with movement

  • Disturb sleep, particularly if you lie on the affected shoulder

  • Make it difficult to comb your hair or reach behind your back

  • Be accompanied by arm weakness

If you are at risk of rotator cuff injuries or if you've had a rotator cuff injury in the past, daily shoulder stretches and strengthening exercises can help prevent future injury.

Most people exercise the front muscles of the chest, shoulder and upper arm, but it is equally important to strengthen the muscles in the back of the shoulder and around the shoulder blade to optimise shoulder muscle balance. A specialised remedial massage therapist with training in sports/rehab exercises can create a treatment program for you.

Targeted massage and mobilisation helps in increasing blood flow along with preventing scar tissue formation. This in turn promotes healing and re-establishes the normal function of rotator cuff.

During the initial stage of a rotator cuff injury, remedial massage is at its most effective along with

treatment for inflammation as prescribed by a GP or rehab physiotherapist.


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