What is Rotator Cuff pain?

19 JUL

What is Rotator Cuff pain?

By Dean Phelps on Tuesday, 19th of July    Tag: Bursitis, Impingement, Rotator Cuff, Rotator Cuff Tear, Shoulder Pain, Sore Shoulder, Tendinitis,

Rotator cuff related shoulder pain is a broad term for pain generated from structures and tissues in the shoulder, read our insight into cuff related pain.

Rotator cuff related shoulder pain

Is a term that is gaining more acceptability in the literature and through our profession in Physiotherapy. It encompasses an array of shoulder problems that are a direct result of pathology of the rotator cuff and surrounding tissues.

What are these?

  • Supraspinatus (rotator cuff) tear
  • Supraspinatus tendinopathy (including tendinosis, tendinitis, calcification)
  • Subaccromial Bursitis
  • Shoulder Impingement

Rotator cuff related shoulder pain is not a firm or tissue based diagnosis, however it emphasies that the cuff is a major player in the development of shoulder related pain and dysfunction.

Why is this important?

Well many people get hooked on the fact that their cuff tear or others is the cause of their pain. But there is emerging evidence that biomedical diagnosis is not associated with good clinical outcomes.

What does that mean?

It doesn’t really matter which one of the above pathology is suffered, if treated conservatively and correctly you can expect a decent outcome. I would agree with this, as I have had shoulders that I have tested, formulated a clinical impression on what structure is involved, treated it and got a great outcome. However later I was to learn that the scan a GP ordered comes back showing a different tissue however still falling in the list above of rotator cuff related pathology. The patient still got the great outcome so who cares! Right?

There should be some caution. A broad non-specific name like ‘rotator cuff related pain’ can promote generic, scripted or recipe driven treatments. We saw this with the emergence of Non-Specific Low Back Pain. Poorly thought-out treatments that lead to bad outcomes.

Your outcome depends on your clinician. It depends on who is treating the shoulder. In the above case I treated a dysfunctional shoulder with an abundance of clinical experience, evidence based treatments and of course correct and progressive exercise to address the dysfunction of the shoulder. There was no script or recipe treatment, it was 100% individualised so despite not being on target with a tissue based diagnosis, the function of the shoulder improved and pain reduced. This is also backed by literature. An improvement in pain and function is not associated with tissue structure changes.

If you are suffering from shoulder pain and think it is cuff related, come in and see me. I will improve your function and pain regardless of the result of a scan.




Dean Phelps - Head Physiotherapy

Dean is a registered Gold Coast Physiotherapist with undergraduate and postgraduate studies in Human Movement and Exercise Science. His background has developed his vision for Fighting Fit Physiotherapy to focus on optimal health and peak physical performance for every single patient. Utilising his many qualifications, in depth knowledge of the body and passion for exercise he can provide a holistic approach to your treatment and exercise prescription to get the best outcome.


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