Understanding Rotator Cuff-Related Pain

min read


The Sports Injury Clinic

Tom Peers-Barlow

January 4, 2024


Let's explore Rotator Cuff-related shoulder pain.


What is it?

Rotator cuff related shoulder pain is an ‘umbrella term’ for pain to the rotator cuff muscles of your shoulder, caused by various conditions including sensitivity, strains, tears or other pathologies. Having pain to these muscles is common in most shoulder pain episodes, where these muscles are involved in around 80% of cases. More broadly, shoulder pain has a lifetime prevalence of up to 70%, and up to 50%of the population will have a shoulder pain episode per year.

What are the rotator cuff muscles?

These are 4 muscles that provide stability and strength to the shoulder complex, forming a ‘cuff’ around the ball and socket joint. In this way, the rotator cuff is active inessentially every movement of our shoulder, including reaching for that cereal box on the top shelf, carrying the shopping, reaching for the seatbelt in the car, and picking up your little ones.


How do I know if I have rotator cuff-related shoulder pain?

Rotator cuff pathologies can occur with a particular trauma such as a fall or with lifting an object that was too heavy, or over time from overuse of the muscles. However, they can also occur from underuse of our arms, meaning a sedentary lifestyle isn’t favorable. Generally, we know that age is another big risk factor and as we reach our 50’s and above our chances increase.

Common symptoms include sharp pain inside the shoulder that can also spread down the arm and/or into the shoulder blade, which often feels like a dull ache. This pain can worsen with activities using your arm above shoulder level (such as combing your hair or reaching for a high shelf). Your arm may also feel weak with your usual activities, making them harder to complete. If the condition has progressed, pain can be worse at nighttime and can interrupt sleep.


How is it managed?

Seeking out an assessment and management plan with your physiotherapist is the best course of action, where the ‘gold standard ‘treatment to reducing pain and improving function is exercise therapy(using weights/bands/bodyweight/Pilates).


A small increase in pain while exercising is ok as long as it goes away within 30 minutes or so, and is not worse the next day. If this happens, don’t worry, do a little less the next time and then gradually build up again. Pain does not always mean damage has occurred.


Generally, it can take around 6-12 weeks to start seeing improvements to your symptoms, so the number one key is to give it patience and time while maintaining consistent rehab as guided by your physiotherapist.


If you feel as though you have such an injury to your shoulder or if you aren't sure, our Physiotherapists can help. Call us on 97839990 or book online for an appointment.



View All
View All
The Sports Injury Clinic acknowledges the traditional owners of the land, the Bunurong people, and pays respect to Elders past, present and emerging.
Melbourne website design by PIER ©2021