The rotator cuff muscles: supraspinatus
The “rotator cuff” gets its name as a result of the common tendinous attachment of the rotator cuff muscles and the way that that attachment sits over the head of the humerus. This common tendinous attachment drapes over the top of the humerus and resembles a shirt cuff enough that someone decided to called it the rotator “cuff”!
If you want to remember which muscles are part of the rotator cuff group, try thinking of the acronym: SITS. Below, you can see that each letter stands for one of the muscles in the group.
What does supraspinatus mean?
- Supra is similar to the word superior and means above.
- Spinatus refers to the spine of the scapula, which is the ridge on the scapula that is almost horizontal.
Where does the supraspinatus muscle attach?
- On the scapular end, the supraspinatus muscle attaches to a depression (fossa) on the top of the scapula that is technically called the supraspinous fossa.
- On the other end it attaches onto the very top of the head of the humerus.
What actions does the supraspinatus muscle do?
- In terms of movement, supraspinatus does only one action, abduction of the humerus (first 10 degrees).
- It also stabilizes the head of the humerus in the socket.
What are the common injuries to the supraspinatus muscle?
Rotator cuff tear
When a tear occurs, the person typically has difficulty abducting their arm and often leans to the side in order to make it seem like their arm is abducting.
With a rotator cuff tear, symptoms can include generalized shoulder pain. In fact, it’s not uncommon for someone with a rotator cuff tear to be woken at night by the pain.
With the condition of frozen shoulder, people often wake up one morning and have extremely limited range of motion. Sometimes the cause is completely unknown (idiopathic). But, sometimes it stems from rotator cuff tears, and sometimes it arises from an acute strain of the shoulder.
Postures where the supraspinatus contracts
Any time the arms abduct, the supraspinatus contracts to initiate that movement.
Postures where the supraspinatus lengthens
It is hard to find examples of adduction that would stretch the supraspinatus, but vatayanasana with the elbows a little lower would start to get at it.
I’ve had a Bankart repair 2 years ago after several shoulder dislocations. Been working hard to strengthen my rotator cuff since then, and feel pretty stable. But, in my ashtanga practice, I still have 2 major limitations: When straightening the arm over my head in Utthita Parsvakonasana, and I also feel too afraid to fully straighten out in Urdhva Dhanurasana. Do you have any advice for progress here, or should I just accept that I shall back off from trying to progress in these two asanas? Would appreciate any advices. Thanks/Leif