The Shoulder Series - Part 3

Massage for rotator cuff strains & tears

What is a “pulled’ muscle

A muscle strain involves the tearing of some or all of the fibers within the muscle/tendon. Depending on how many of the fibers are torn the injury will be classified as either a first, second or third degree strain.

Strains usually occur at the point where muscle becomes tendon, and muscles that cross more than one joint are more susceptible. Depending on the severity of the strain bruising and swelling may be present. There may also be a palpable divot or dent in the muscle.

Strains can result from muscular fatigue, repetitive overuse, lack of proper conditioning, loss of flexibility, poor recovery after exercise, inadequate warm up prior to exercise and high force loads.

Anatomy of the rotator cuff

The rotator cuff is made up of 4 different muscles (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor, Subscapularis). The tendons of each muscle form a ring or “cuff” around the top of the arm to connect it to the scapula (the shoulder blade). Where the top of the arm and the scapula meet this forms the Glenohumeral Joint (read here for more detail on the joints of the shoulder). One of the primary roles of the rotator cuff is to provide stability to this joint. The rotator cuff muscles also control and assist with shoulder movements such as raising and rotating the arm. Damage most often occurs to Supraspinatus and least often occurs to Subscapularis.

Acute or chronic injury?

Rotator cuff strain/tears can result from an acute injury where excessive force is placed on the tissues such as falling directly onto the shoulder, or trying to lift a heavy load with the arm outstretched.

Strain/tears can also result from degeneration & chronic irritation, with overuse and repetitive motions that take the arm overhead and/or out to the side. Activities such as swimming, throwing, volleyball, hairdressing or cleaning windows may cause the rotator cuff to become fatigued and therefore more susceptible to injury.

Common characteristics

The location of the pain will vary depending upon which of the rotator cuff muscles are involved. It may be described as deep in the shoulder joint but difficult to describe the exact location. Or, it may be on the back of the shoulder and you may be able to press on a specific spot that reproduces the pain. There may be pain and weakness when lifting and lowering your arm, activities such as getting dressed or washing your hair may have become difficult and painful. Sleeping on the affected shoulder may also be painful.

Massage for rotator cuff strains/tears

If your shoulder pain  has not responded to rest, avoiding the painful activities and taking over the counter medication then a Doctor or Physical Therapist evaluation may be necessary to get you back on track. Once you have a diagnosis and a treatment plan in place Massage Therapy can be helpful in supporting your recovery. Massage can:

  • Improve circulation at site of injury and encourage tissue repair.

  • Reduce tension in the affected muscle.

  • Address hypertonicity and trigger points in surrounding and compensating muscles.

  • Encourage collagen production and facilitate functional scar development.

If you’re an athlete or work in a field requiring a large amount of physical labor, it’s also natural to feel some degree of anxiety about being injured. This is an area where massage really shines, helping you relax and cope with the stress that comes along with injury.


So, how do you find a qualified and experienced Massage Therapist to treat your shoulder? You’ve already found one! Click here to book an appointment.