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Rotator Cuff Anatomy

I’m sure that if you are reading my blog tight now, you are suffering from a rotator cuff injury and the doctor probably already explained to you briefly what the rotator cuff is. Anyway, I want to share with you exactly what the rotator cuff is and how important its function is to our shoulder, for better understanding of the exercises for rotator cuff strengthening.

The rotator cuff is comprised of four main muscles crossing the shoulder joint: Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor and Subscapularis. The main functions of the rotator cuff muscles are stabilizing the shoulder joint, locking the humerus into the shoulder joint and rotating the arm to the rear (external rotation of the humerus).

The Rotator Cuff Muscles

Rotator Cuff Anatomy

Rotator Cuff Anatomy

Supraspinatus – The Supraspinatus elevates the shoulder joint and also works with the other muscles to stabilize the head of the humerus in the shoulder joint. It allows us to hold objects away from our body.

Infraspinatus – The Infraspinatus location is below the spine of the scapula, in its posterior surface. It rotates the shoulder joint and also works with the other muscles to stabilize the head of the humerus in the shoulder joint. This muscle allows us to brush out hair.

Teres Minor – The Teres Minor origin is in the mid section of the lateral border of the scapula. It externally rotates the shoulder joint and also stabilizes the head of the humerus with the other three rotator cuff muscles. This muscle also allows us to brush our hair.

Subscapularis – The Subscapularis origin is in the anterior surface of the scapula. It holds the head of the humerus to prevent it from moving forward. One of the daily uses we do with the Subscapularis is tucking the back of our shirt into our pants.

Rotator Cuff Muscles

The rotator cuff has four muscles in it, which come together at the shoulder to form a thick cuff over the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff’s job is to stabilize the shoulder and enabling the shoulder to lift and rotate the arm. Rotator cuff muscles are extremely important for any movement of the shoulder. Each rotator cuff muscle originates on the shoulder blade, and goes into the arm bone.

There are four rotator cuff muscles that originate in the shoulder blade and go into the arm hole. These are responsible for lifting up the shoulder joint both internally and externally, rotating the shoulder joint, and allowing the arm to move freely.

If even one rotator cuff muscle is injured or a tear forms in it, the shoulder movement will be severely impacted. If the rotator cuff muscles are injured, the patient is advised to rest the shoulder completely and not use it in any way. Even typing on a keyboard causes the shoulder to move and the arms to lift and work. The patient has to rest until the injury heals itself. This works in the case of a minor injury that was perhaps earned during a tennis match. However, if the injury is major, the shoulder needs to be put in a cast till the healing occurs, supported by medication for pain and internal healing.

If a rotator cuff muscle is actually torn, then a surgeon has to get involved. Depending on whether the tear is a partial thickness or a full thickness tear, surgical decisions are made. Usually rotator cuff muscles surgery would involve open surgical techniques. However, arthroscopic surgeries are catching on for rotator cuff muscles surgery and the results are positive.

With either kind of surgery, post-operative rehabilitation of the shoulder can be an intricate and complicated aspect of recovery.


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