What is the Rotator Cuff & How Can Massage Help? 

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and their tendons – supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor. They attach to the scapula (shoulder blade) and the humerus (bone of the upper arm). 

The shoulder joint is made up of a ball (humerus) and socket.  The rotator cuff stabilises the shoulder joint by holding the head into the socket when you lift the arm. The tendons of the rotator cuff have a poor blood supply which make it vulnerable to degeneration, especially as it’s subjected to a lot of wear and tear. Rotator cuff symptoms are most common in people over the age of 40, but can occur in younger people, especially in athletes who perform repetitive overhead activities i.e. swimmers, fast bowlers.


Symptoms & Treatment

Symptoms can be caused by a single traumatic incident but usually it’s due to repetitive micro trauma where the tendon or tendons are damaged as they are compressed between the acromion and ball of the humerus.  The most common tendon/muscle to be injured is the supraspinatus.
Symptoms can include:

  • Pain & tenderness of the shoulder, especially when reaching overhead, behind your back, lifting/pulling or sleeping on the affected side
  • Pain radiating down the front of the arm
  • Pain often occurs at night
  • Loss of shoulder movement
  • Shoulder weakness

Treatment involves correction of poor posture and exercises to strengthen the rotator cuff and improve the biomechanics of the shoulder. This involves advice and treatment from a physiotherapist. In more severe cases if a significant tear is present surgery may be required. 

How Can Remedial Massage Help?

The role of your remedial massage therapist is to assess and treat the tight and tender muscles and supporting structures. This treatment will involve soft tissue massage, gentle joint mobilization as tolerated within your pain levels and range of movement with the shoulder. Different styles of massage will also be applied with the aim of releasing the tension you are feeling with your shoulder. As you may be already experiencing tenderness, the depth of pressure of remedial massage should be applied to your level of tolerance. 

With guidance from your physiotherapist, they may refer you to a remedial masseur for soft tissue treatment with the aim to improve your symptoms and increase the function of your shoulder.


About the Author

Natalie Claudio is a Remedial Massage Therapist at Physiotas Launceston.

Natalie graduated as a Remedial Massage Therapist in December 2010 and is a member of Massage and Myotherapy Australia. She provides high quality remedial massage services for a diverse range of clients, working within a dynamic team of allied health professionals.

Natalie offers deep tissue, sports massage, trigger point therapy, muscle energy techniques, pregnancy massage, integrative fascial release, joint mobilisation, corporate and relaxation massage. She also assists patients with meditation techniques for health and well being.