Many people have many names for this shoulder structure. The correct name is rotator cuff. It is four small muscles in your shoulder. They are responsible for control of the ball and socket joint that is your shoulder. They are also responsible for a lot of pain in overhead athletes. Ask any thrower who has had shoulder pain and it can be a four letter word.

The shoulder is like a golf ball on tee. The socket is very shallow. This allows for a great deal of mobility but not very much stability. You need a lot of flexibility at the shoulder to serve fast, throw hard, or jump serve effectively. It doesn’t take much to lose muscle balance however and all of a sudden the shoulder is unstable and/or painful. And this leads to poor upper extremity mechanics causing compensations, pain in other areas, and diminished performance.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure right? We want posture to be perfect. This puts the cuff in an advantageous length-tension relationship. We want good cuff control so it can react to forces very quickly. We want the cuff to be strong as well. We then need explosiveness. Finally, we want the muscle to be able to produce forces over many repetitions (i.e. endurance). This is only if there is no pain which must get addressed first.

So, don’t Google exercises to help this very complicated joint. Don’t be reckless with your shoulder weight lifting program so you don’t cause dysfunction. Finally, if there is pain, do not throw and seek an orthopedic physician and a sports physical therapist for a whole body evaluation (see my other post in Coaches Tribune: Don’t Throw Through Pain). An overhead athlete in my clinic will be evaluated, shoulder irritation if present reduced, rotator cuff strength and control restored, whole body conditioning including core and hips addressed, and throwing or sports movement evaluated on computer, slow motion video software analysis to help improve form and biomechanics as needed.

Call me, let’s get better – even if you call it the rotor cup!!!

Kash Eagleton, DPT, SCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Sports Physical Therapy Specialist
Fredericksburg, VA

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