Shoulder pain? Could it be your rotator cuff?

Updated: Oct 21

The shoulder, a ball-and-socket joint connecting the higher end of the funny bone (humorous in arm) to the scapula.

Four muscles attach to the shoulder joint bone, called the rotator cuff muscles: supraspinatous, infraspinatous, subscapularis and teres minor!

Keeping these muscles strong and flexible can help prevent injury, especially for active people. The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. Misuse or overuse of the joint, makes it very easy to injure the rotator cuff and other parts of the shoulder.

The rotator cuff muscles do the following:

  • Keep the humourous arm bone in centre of the shoulder joint, holding it there

  • For arm and shoulder movements requiring power.

Some sports, such as tennis or baseball commonly cause rotator cuff injuries, most are are overuse injuries caused by repetitive overhead motions. Rotator cuff overuse commonly causes to rotator cuff impingement- the pinching of a rotator cuff tendon, or any soft tissue between the humurous or scapula. Swelling in the shoulder joint with this type of injury reduces space between these bones. Impingement can occur when muscle strain and other overuse injuries cause swelling in the shoulder joint, decreasing the space between these bones. Tears of the rotator cuff and tendons can also occur but these are much less common than overuse injuries. Rotator cuff tears can be extremely painful, but usually will heal with rest and strength work. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, "following a conditioning program helps a person return to daily activities in addition to any sports and other recreational activities that they were participating in before the injury".

Most people strengthen larger or more familiar muscles (the lats, rhomboids, biceps & triceps, etc.). It’s important to train these muscles but it’s also important to strengthen to smaller muscles, for example the teres major and teres minor. The teres major runs along the side of your scapula. It’s a synergist(supporting/stabilising muscle) for the latissimus dorsi (a large back muscle). It also internally rotates and adducts (bringing in toward the midline of the body) the arm. The teres minor is below below the infraspinatus (another rotator cuff muscle), underneath the deltoid. This muscle externally rotates the shoulder and helps it to to adduct and extend.

The best Teres Major & Teres Minor Strength Exercises: 1. Resistance Band Horizontal Rotation This exercises is a great strengthener for the rotator cuff. Use it as a warm-up before upper body exercise. Warming up and the teres minor first, you encourages good shoulder health and mechanics for more complicated exercises with weights.

Grab a light resistance band. Loop the band around a sturdy surface, ensuring it’s level with your shoulder, and grabing the other end of the band you can then:

  • Step back a little to create tension on the band

  • Raise your arm- shoulder at 90-degrees with your torso, elbow is also bent at this angle (your palm should be facing down)

  • Keeping your shoulder and elbow joint fixed at 90-degrees, exhale and rotate your upper arm so that your forearm moves down until it’s parallel to the floor

  • Raise your arm and return to normal position on an inhale

2. Single-Arm Dumbbell Rows If you’re interested in doing teres major exercises with dumbbells, the single-arm dumbbell row is an excellent option. Most people think of this exercise as a lat exercise, and it’s true that it does strengthen this muscle. Remember, though, that the teres major supports the lat, so by performing single-arm rows, you’re also, by default, strengthening this smaller synergistic muscle. To do this exercise correctly, start by grabbing a light-moderately heavy dumbbell. Grasp it in one hand with your palm facing inward, then hinge at your hips and bend forward to rest your other hand on a bench or box. From here, do the following: