The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of the shoulder joint, allowing the shoulder to move in a coordinated and pain-free way and remain stable. The tendons can be torn from overuse, injury, or wearing away over time.
Pain relief measures, using the shoulder properly, and shoulder exercises may help ease your symptoms.
Common rotator cuff problems include:
Medicines, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may help reduce swelling and pain. If you take these medicines every day, tell your health care provider so that your general health can be monitored.
Moist heat, such as a hot bath, shower, or a heat pack, can help loosen up your shoulder when you feel pain in your shoulder. An ice pack applied to the shoulder 20 minutes at a time, 3 to 4 times a day, may also help cut down the swelling when you are in pain. Wrap the ice pack in a clean towel or cloth. Do not place it directly on the shoulder. Doing so may cause frostbite.
Learn how to care for your shoulder to avoid placing extra stress on it. This can help you heal from an injury and avoid re-injury.
Your positions and posture during the day and night can also help relieve some of your shoulder pain:
Other tips for taking care of your shoulder include:
Your provider will likely refer you to a physical therapist to learn exercises for your shoulder.
It is best to avoid playing sports until you have no pain during rest or activity. Also, when examined by your provider or physical therapist, before returning to sports, you should have:
Returning to sports and other activities should be gradual. Ask your physical therapist about the proper technique you should use when doing your sports or other activities that involve a lot of shoulder movement.
Finnoff JT, Johnson W. Upper limb pain and dysfunction. In: Cifu DX, ed. Braddom's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 35.
Mosich GM, Yamaguchi KT, Petrigliano FA. Rotator cuff and impingement lesions. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee, Drez, & Miller's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 47.BACK TO TOP
Review Date: 4/24/2023
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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