The rotator cuff is a group of four small muscles that stabilise the shoulder by approximating the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) in the socket (of the shoulder blade).  The rotator cuff also has a role in movement of the arm.  The four muscles include the supraspinatus, teres minor, subscapularis and infraspinatus.
A rotator cuff strain or tear can affect one or more of the tendons of the rotator cuff.  Tears can occur traumatically as a result of forceful movements such as falls, pulling of the arm and lifting heavy loads quickly or as the result of long term degeneration.

This image shows our Physiotherapist, Kate, assessing a clients shoulder range. The client has put their right arm up above their head. Kate has her hands on the upper and lower trap muscles to assess the range of movement.


* Pain in the shoulder or pain travelling down the arm
* Inability to lift the arm as normal
* Weakness and inability to hold loads
* Swelling, redness or warmth of the shoulder
* Secondary neck pain


The size of the rotator cuff strain or tear will impact heavily on the course of treatment required.  Physiotherapy can be successful in treating minor to moderate strains and tears.  Treatment can consist of a thorough examination, pain management, manual therapy, soft tissue techniques, dry needling and taping.  It is important to understand that successful rehabilitation of rotator cuff pathology requires consistent participation in a strength program specifically designed for your presentation.
Suspected large rotator cuff tears often require imagining, for example a MRI or ultrasound, and referral to a surgeon for opinion and management.  If surgery is required, this is followed with a lengthy rehabilitation process which also requires active participation for positive results.