Shoulder pain can be a persistent and debilitating issue. It often stems from one of the most intricate areas of the body—the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff plays an indispensable role in shoulder stability and movement. However, these essential components are vulnerable to wear, tear, or injury. Whether you’re an athlete pushing your physical boundaries, a weekend warrior tackling DIY projects, or just a person going about your daily activities, rotator cuff injuries can affect anyone at any time.
What is a Rotator Cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres minor, and Subscapularis) and their associated tendons located in the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons work to stabilize and enable various shoulder joint movements. The rotator cuff muscles work together to keep the ball of the upper arm bone in the shoulder blade socket. 
The rotator cuff plays a crucial role in shoulder stability and function, allowing you to perform a wide range of movements, including lifting, reaching, and rotating your arm. Injuries or problems with the rotator cuff can lead to shoulder pain, weakness, and limited mobility.
Rotator cuff tears, strains, and inflammation are common issues affecting these muscles and tendons, often requiring medical attention and rehabilitation to alleviate pain and restore function.
What Happens When They Get Injured?
When the rotator cuffs get injured, it can lead to a range of symptoms and functional limitations in the shoulder. The severity of the injury can vary from mild strains to complete tears of the tendons. 
Rotator cuff injuries can occur due to various factors, including overuse, trauma, degeneration, or age-related changes. Examples of overuse include sports like golf, tennis, or baseball (swinging or throwing repeatedly).
Common injuries of the rotator cuff causing pain can come from:
- A rotator cuff tear
- Rotator cuff tendonitis
- Rotator cuff impingement (bone spurs)
- Subacromial bursitis
Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial to prevent further damage and to help people regain full function in the shoulder. Physical therapy is often an essential component of rehabilitation to strengthen the muscles and improve shoulder mobility.
Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Injury
Some common symptoms of a torn rotator cuff include:
- Shoulder pain
- Limited range of motion
- Back pain
- Neck pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Popping, crackling, or clicking sounds
- Muscle atrophy
- Tears required surgical intervention
Common causes of rotator cuff issues are overuse, frozen shoulders, bursitis, tendonitis, and impingement of the shoulder tendons.
How is a Rotator Cuff Injury Diagnosed?
If you suspect you have a rotator cuff injury, see your healthcare provider for diagnosis and medical advice. They’ll check for rotator cuff injuries by taking your medical history, doing a physical exam, or requesting imaging like x-rays, MRIs, or ultrasounds.
The Fireman vs. The Carpenter in Healthcare
At The Wellness Way, we talk about the mainstream perspective on healthcare versus our perspective and methods as the “fireman approach” or the “carpenter approach.”
Mainstream “fireman” doctors have two tools (treatment options) for caring for people: an axe and a hose. The axe represents cutting things out in a surgical procedure. The hose represents using medications to extinguish inflammation, pain, and other symptoms.
The Wellness Way doctors are more like carpenters. They assess the current state of the body with testing and then create a personalized plan to rebuild using nutrients from foods and supplements. Sunshine, rest, and positive relationships are additional natural therapies that can support healing.
While these things are considered “complementary medicine” or even “alternative medicine,” scientific research backs up their effectiveness.
Mainstream Medicine’s Approach to Rotator Cuff Injuries
Mainstream medicine looks at rotator cuff problems as simply the result of an acute injury, overuse, or a part of aging. Treatment options for these injuries range from rest, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications for milder cases to surgery for more severe tears. 
- Pain killers: Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed to reduce pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter meds may work for some, while others may need stronger pain-relieving prescriptions.
- Corticosteroid Injections: In some cases, steroid injections into the shoulder joint can provide short-term relief.
These pharmaceuticals may provide some relief by synthetically suppressing inflammation, but they all have side effects. Those side effects are why people seek out home remedies for rotator cuff pain.
Other Nonsurgical Treatments
Other conservative treatments that may help rotator cuff injuries include:
- Cold packs: An ice pack held to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.
- Heating pad: A heating pad can help increase blood flow to the area, providing pain relief and supporting the healing process.
- Sports medicine: Athletic trainers can help teach stretching exercises to improve range of motion.
- Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can recommend and demonstrate strengthening exercises to improve shoulder movement.
Rotator Cuff Surgery
Rotator cuff surgery is a procedure to repair a damaged or torn rotator cuff in the shoulder. When the tendons or muscles surrounding the shoulder joint become injured or torn, doctors may recommend surgery to restore function and alleviate pain. Orthopedic surgeons can take different approaches to address rotator cuff injuries, depending on the severity and location of the tear.
Successful outcomes often depend on the patient’s commitment to post-operative rehabilitation and follow-up care.
What Causes Rotator Cuff Injuries? Traumas, Toxins, and Thoughts
At The Wellness Way, we think differently! The most common causes of rotator cuff injuries fit into one or more of three categories: traumas, toxins, and thoughts.
Traumas (Physical Stressors)
Traumas or physical stressors can be acute or chronic. Chronic subluxations in the spine can inhibit nerve and blood flow to the shoulder area, disrupting its ability to repair. Examples of traumas that could contribute to rotator cuff injuries include: 
- Poor posture (forward head posture, shoulders rolled forward)
- A fall causing trauma to the shoulder.
- A car accident with back or shoulder trauma
- A sports injury involving the shoulder.
- Physical abuse
- Arm surgery
A shoulder injury, fracture, or trauma can lead to swelling and inflammation in the shoulder and surrounding tissue, contributing to rotator cuff inflammation. Even so, diet and lifestyle choices can impact your susceptibility to injury and ability to heal.
Toxins (Biochemical Stressors)
- Smoking – Smokers are more likely to have rotator cuff tears and other shoulder issues. 
- Alcohol – Chronic alcohol consumption may increase the risk of rotator cuff injuries. 
- Medications – Certain pharmaceutical drugs can increase the risk of rotator cuff injuries when used for a long time or at high doses. Two types of medications associated with rotator cuff tears are corticosteroids like prednisone and fluoroquinolone antibiotics like Ciprofloxacin or Levaquin. 
- Sugar – Sugar increases inflammation throughout the body, including the joints. Researchers are finding that conditions like frozen shoulders, carpal tunnel, and rotator cuff disease are more common in those with diabetes than in the general public. 
- Food allergies – Foods can act like toxins, causing inflammation in the joints and elsewhere if you’re allergic to them. 
Anything that compromises the integrity of the gut lining, leading to a “leaky gut,” can lead to chronic inflammation. Traumas and toxins are made worse by negative thought patterns and emotional stress.
Thoughts (Emotional Stressors)
Don’t underestimate the power of your thoughts. Emotional stress is just as powerful (or more powerful) than physical and biochemical stressors in triggering pain and inflammation. Our emotional stress can come from the following:
- Relationship issues
- Financial stress
- Watching the news (fear/worry)
- Feeling overwhelmed due to significant life changes, like a recent marriage, a new baby, graduation, a divorce, or even moving to a new city.
- Holding a grudge/pent-up anger
- Grief/feelings of loss
The cumulative effect of these traumas, toxins, and thoughts can create inflammation and increase the risk of dis-ease anywhere in the body.
The Wellness Way Approach to Rotator Cuff Injuries
At The Wellness Way, we dig deeper to solve the health challenges others can’t. We don’t just address symptoms; we run tests to find out what’s going on behind the scenes.
Essential Tests for Assessing Your Inflammation and Joint Health
When there’s joint inflammation and pain, it means the immune system is involved. Food allergies and gut health may be reasons for an elevated immune response. That’s why Wellness Way practitioners will often recommend starting with these tests:
- Chiropractic Assessment and Diagnostic Films
- Food Allergy Test: Immuno Food Allergy Test
- Male or Female Panel: Male Panel or Female Panel
- Gut Health Test: Genova GI Effects with Parasitology
Your Wellness Way practitioner will order more tests based on what he or she considers most relevant based on your health history.
Dietary Changes for Those with Rotator Cuff Injuries
First, focus on lowering inflammation in the body. That means avoiding food allergies and following a personalized nutrition program, as the Wellness Way practitioner recommends. Here are some general dietary guidelines for those with rotator cuff injuries:
- No sugar or processed foods – Both increase inflammation.
- Gluten-free, mostly grain-free – Gluten is known to aggravate the gut lining, contributing to chronic inflammation in the gut and brain. A gluten-free diet may help lower joint pain and inflammation while allowing the gut to heal. 
- Consume an overall low carbohydrate, non-inflammatory diet of organic whole foods, which supply nutrients, antioxidants, and food for a healthy gut microbiome. Remember that those with higher blood sugar levels are more likely to develop rotator cuff issues.
- No cow’s milk dairy products – Goat and sheep’s milk products may be better tolerated. In fact, they may even help lower inflammation in the gut, which makes up a large part of the immune and inflammatory response. 
- Avoid high omega-6 vegetable oils, like corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed oil, sunflower, grapeseed, and others, which can alter the omega-6 to omega-3 balance to be more inflammatory.  Instead, use fruit oils like olive, coconut, avocado, and palm oil or animal fats like beef tallow, bacon grease, and duck fat.
- Follow a Personalized Nutrition Program based on your food allergy test results.
- Add specific nutrient-dense foods: Add Liver/organ meats, sauerkraut, and microgreens for enhanced nutrition. Liver is nature’s multivitamin, according to Dr. Flynn.
- Focus on antioxidants – Including things like turmeric, green tea, berries, dark chocolate, and other botanicals high in polyphenols can help keep inflammation under control. 
- Eat omega-3-rich foods – Wild-caught salmon, herring, sardines, walnuts, and ground flaxseeds provide omega-3s and help lower inflammation. 
A healthy diet can reduce inflammation, but supplements support gut healing and joint repair.
Supplements For Those with Rotator Cuff Injuries
A healthy diet reduces inflammation, but natural remedies like herbs and supplements can support joint repair. They can help lower pain and inflammation and improve a person’s overall sense of well-being. Here are some herbs and supplements that may help rotator cuff injuries:
- Rehmannia – This herb may be considered “nature’s corticosteroid.” Rehmannia supports a balanced immune response and reduces inflammation. 
- St. John’s Wort – While SJW is known for elevating the mood, it’s also useful for musculoskeletal trauma like rotator cuff injuries, as it reduces pain and inflammation. 
- Turmeric – Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, primarily due to its active compound, curcumin. It may help reduce inflammation, pain, and stiffness associated with rotator cuff injuries. 
- Boswellia – Boswellia, also known as Indian Frankincense, is a natural resin with anti-inflammatory properties. It may help reduce inflammation and pain in rotator cuff injuries. 
- Bromelain – Bromelain, an enzyme isolated from pineapple, is a potent anti-inflammatory that may ease joint pain and stiffness. 
- Vitamin B12 – Those deficient in vitamin B12 may be at increased risk of a rotator cuff injury. 
Each person is different – herbal remedies that work for one individual may not work for another. Part of that is due to body chemistry, including genetics and allergenic responses, and part is due to differences in the contributing factors.
Lifestyle Changes & Complementary Therapies
- Regular chiropractic care – If your posture is poor or your joints are out of proper alignment, it’s easier to injure them. Regular chiropractic care may help. 
- Home exercises – Your chiropractor or physical therapist may give you stretching exercises to improve shoulder mobility and promote healing. 
- Acupuncture – Acupuncture may stimulate the release of endorphins and other natural pain-relieving chemicals in the body. This boost in natural opioids can lead to reduced pain and improved function. 
Be a well-informed patient! Here are some resources for learning more about inflammation and rotator cuff injuries.
Educational Resources for Rotator Cuff Injuries
Videos & Webinars Related to Rotator Cuff Injuries
Articles to Support Those with Rotator Cuff Injuries
How Can Nutrition Influence Your Joint Pain and Muscle Soreness?
Frozen Shoulder: What Makes You More Susceptible, And What Can You Do?
How Removing the Gallbladder Can Lead to Joint Pain
Constant Muscle and Joint Pain Aren’t a Life Sentence
CONNECT WITH US!
We invite you to connect with us! Find an event at a clinic near you! Follow us on social media. Tune in to A Different Perspective each Saturday morning LIVE to get cutting-edge training directly from Dr. Patrick Flynn. Please set up a no-obligation health consult with one of our doctors today. The best is yet to come! Think differently – and THRIVE. To learn how best to overcome rotator cuff injuries and other chronic complaints, contact a Wellness Way clinic today.
- Rotator Cuff Tears – OrthoInfo – AAOS
- Rotator Cuff Injury | Cedars-Sinai
- Rotator Cuff Tear: Symptoms & Treatment (clevelandclinic.org)
- Rotator cuff tears: An evidence based approach – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Smoking Predisposes to Rotator Cuff Pathology and Shoulder Dysfunction: A Systematic Review – PubMed (nih.gov)
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- Diabetes and shoulder disorders – PMC (nih.gov)
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