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Empowering the Rotator Cuff: The MSR Protocol for Enhanced Movement

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

The rotator cuff is an intricate assembly of muscles and tendons that provide a significant range of motion and stability to the shoulder joint. For athletes and individuals alike, the health of the rotator cuff is crucial for performing overhead activities and maintaining upper body agility.

In the forthcoming article, we will delve into the complexities of the rotator cuff, dissecting the anatomy and biomechanics of this critical muscle group. We will apply an evidence-based methodology to detail Motion Specific Release (MSR) techniques aimed at alleviating restrictions and optimizing function. The interplay of the rotator cuff within the upper limb kinetic chain and its impact on musculoskeletal wellness will be thoroughly explored, supported by video demonstrations to enhance practitioner comprehension.

Article Index:


Anatomy & Biomechanics of the Rotator Cuff Muscles

The rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles—supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis—that converge to form a sheath of tendons enveloping the head of the humerus. This musculotendinous unit plays a pivotal role in shoulder dynamics, facilitating a wide range of movements while ensuring joint stability.

Supraspinatus Muscle

The Supraspinatus is critical for the initiation of arm abduction and stabilizes the humeral head within the glenoid cavity.

Origin and Insertion:
  • It originates from the supraspinous fossa of the scapula and inserts into the greater tubercle of the humerus.

  • The suprascapular nerve innervates the supraspinatus, stemming from the upper trunk of the brachial plexus, with nerve roots from C5 and C6.

Biomechanical Role:
  • It acts primarily in the first 15 degrees of arm abduction and works in concert with the deltoid muscle to continue abduction beyond this initial phase.

Infraspinatus Muscle

The Infraspinatus muscle is a major contributor to lateral rotation of the arm at the shoulder and assists in stabilizing the shoulder joint.

Origin and Insertion:
  • Arising from the infraspinous fossa of the scapula, it attaches to the greater tubercle of the humerus.

  • Like the supraspinatus, it is also innervated by the suprascapular nerve, with nerve roots predominantly from C5 and C6.

Biomechanical Role:
  • It is instrumental during the external rotation of the humerus and helps in maintaining the humeral head in the glenoid cavity during various arm movements.

Teres Minor Muscle

The Teres Minor enhances the actions of the infraspinatus in lateral rotation of the arm and adds to the overall stability of the shoulder joint.

Origin and Insertion:
  • The muscle originates from the lateral border of the scapula and inserts into the lower facet of the greater tubercle of the humerus.

  • Innervated by the axillary nerve, it has nerve roots from C5 and C6.

Biomechanical Role:
  • It serves as a modest shoulder adductor and external rotator, and it cooperates with the other rotator cuff muscles to stabilize the humeral head.

Subscapularis Muscle

The Subscapularis, the largest of the rotator cuff muscles, is primarily responsible for medially rotating the arm and is a key player in shoulder stability.

Origin and Insertion:

  • It originates from the subscapular fossa and inserts into the lesser tubercle of the humerus.

  • The subscapular nerves, stemming from the posterior cord of the brachial plexus (C5-C7), innervate this muscle.

Biomechanical Role:
  • It acts as a powerful internal rotator of the humerus and works to hold the humeral head against the glenoid fossa, especially during arm-lowering movements.

These four muscles function collectively not only to facilitate motion but also to fortify the shoulder joint against dislocation. They are essential for rotational movements and for maintaining the humerus within the shallow socket of the scapula during the tremendous range of shoulder activities. The rotator cuff's unique anatomical arrangement and biomechanical functions are foundational to upper extremity mobility and stability.


Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment

Initial Setup:

  • Patient Placement: For effective treatment of the rotator cuff, position the patient accordingly - seated for the supraspinatus muscle, face-down (prone) when addressing the infraspinatus and teres minor muscles, and face-up (supine) for accessing the subscapularis.

  • Practitioner's Stance: The practitioner should position themselves strategically to ensure full access to the shoulder area, maintaining a stance that offers stability and the flexibility to apply targeted manual pressure with precision.

Basic Technique:

  • Treatment: Utilizing the thumbs (backed up with the other hand), forearms or the back of a open hand, the practitioner applies targeted pressure to the rotator cuff muscles, specifically addressing the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis as demonstrated in the accompanying video .

  • Support Hand: The non-dominant hand of the practitioner is used to stabilize the patient, controlling the degree of movement, thereby enhancing the ability to manipulate the myofascial tissues effectively.

Bilateral Traction, Circumduction and Tension:

  • Opposing Force Traction: By applying force in opposite directions through the hand administering treatment and the stabilizing hand, this method effectively alleviates myofascial restrictions, aiding in the restoration of normal functionality.

  • Integrated Joint and Fascial Mobilization: The technique of circumduction employs a comprehensive range of motion across multiple planes, engaging the joints and fascia simultaneously, and leveraging the fascial network's inherent multi-axial nature.

  • Tension Modulation: Fine-tuning the tension applied to myofascial structures can be achieved through subtle adjustments of forearm positioning — such as pronation and supination — as well as slight shifts in the positioning of either the patient or the practitioner.

MSR Demonstration Video:

The accompanying video features Dr. Abelson demonstrating MSR procedures specifically tailored to address restrictions in the rotator cuff muscles, highlighting the importance of integrated movements and the application of myofascial principles.

Best Practices:

  • Anatomical Consideration: Detailed knowledge of the rotator cuff anatomy, including muscle origins, insertions, actions, and innervations, is crucial for effective MSR treatment.

  • Kinetic Chain Awareness: Acknowledging the role of the rotator cuff in the larger kinetic chain, recognizing that restrictions here can have far-reaching effects on the neck, spine, and upper extremity function.

  • Patient Feedback: Continuous dialogue with the patient is maintained to monitor comfort levels and ensure the safety of the movements and pressure applied.

  • Customization: Techniques are tailored to individual needs, taking into account the patient's unique anatomy, presenting conditions, and responsiveness to treatment.


Rotator Cuff Functional Kinetic Chains

The rotator cuff's role within the kinetic chain is multifaceted, involving a series of direct connections, synergistic actions, antagonistic forces, and stabilizing influences that maintain shoulder integrity and function.

Direct Connections

The rotator cuff muscles establish direct musculotendinous and ligamentous connections that are vital for shoulder mechanics:

  • Glenohumeral Ligaments: These ligaments interlace with the rotator cuff tendons, directly contributing to the stability of the shoulder joint during rotational and abduction movements.

  • Coracoacromial Arch: Comprising the coracoid process, acromion, and the coracoacromial ligament, this arch forms a protective vault over the rotator cuff tendons, with the subacromial bursa facilitating smooth gliding motions.


Muscles that function synergistically with the rotator cuff ensure a wide range of controlled shoulder motions:

  • Deltoid: Works with the supraspinatus for abduction and provides the primary force for this movement beyond the initial degrees.

  • Scapular Stabilizers: The serratus anterior, trapezius, and levator scapulae coordinate scapular motion with rotator cuff activity to optimize glenohumeral kinematics.


These muscles and structures provide necessary support to the shoulder complex:

  • Rhomboids and Levator Scapulae: Act as scapular retractors and elevators, countering the protraction and depression forces of the serratus anterior and lower trapezius to maintain scapular stability during rotator cuff engagement.

  • Biceps Brachii (Long Head): Stabilizes the superior glenohumeral joint by centering the humeral head within the glenoid fossa during shoulder movements.


The rotator cuff is balanced by antagonistic muscles that facilitate movement and protect against overuse injuries:

  • Pectoralis Major: Opposes the external rotation provided by the infraspinatus and teres minor, contributing to internal rotation and adduction of the shoulder.

  • Latissimus Dorsi: Counteracts the abduction and external rotation of the shoulder by the rotator cuff, assisting in adduction and extension of the upper limb.

These dynamic interactions within the kinetic chain allow the rotator cuff to execute complex shoulder movements with precision and stability. Recognizing these connections is essential for targeted MSR techniques that address the biomechanical aspects of rotator cuff function and rehabilitation.



The exercises listed are illustrative of what may be recommended for some individuals experiencing rotator cuff issues. A key principle in assigning exercises for patients involves a progression beginning with mobility exercises, followed by strengthening, and concluding with proprioceptive exercises. The particular exercises chosen would be based on the individual's specific condition.

Flexibility/Mobility Exercises

5 Great Daily Shoulder Mobilization Exercises

Welcome to this detailed video tutorial, specifically crafted for individuals who spend extended periods in sedentary positions due to work or leisure activities. The exercises highlighted aim to counteract the negative impacts of prolonged sitting on posture and mobility.

Myofascial Release

Lateral Shoulder - Double Ball Release

The dual sphere technique is a highly effective method for self-administered myofascial release targeting the anatomical structures of the latissimus dorsi, serratus anterior, and teres minor and major muscles.

Strengthening Exercises

Strengthening Internal & External Shoulder Rotators

A very simple and effective way to strengthen the Internal & External Shoulder Rotators. A great exercise for rotator cuff rehab.


4 Cardinal Planes - Shoulder Stabilization Exercise

The 4 Cardinal Planes shoulder stabilization exercise works on proprioception, balance, and coordination for your shoulder and its surrounding muscles as it moves through various ranges of motion.



As we wrap up our exporation into the rotator cuff, we recognize its critical role in both movement and stability of the shoulder. The Motion Specific Release (MSR) procedures detailed in this piece offer valuable strategies for addressing restrictions and improving function. These methods not only enhance mobility but also contribute to a balanced musculoskeletal system.

The success of MSR in rehabilitating the rotator cuff hinges on a tailored approach, blending anatomical knowledge with patient-specific exercises. This article has provided a blueprint for such targeted treatment, setting the stage for improved patient outcomes. As practitioners implement these techniques, the true versatility and resilience of the rotator cuff can be fully appreciated.



Dr. Abelson's approach in musculoskeletal health care reflects a deep commitment to evidence-based practices and continuous learning. In his work at Kinetic Health in Calgary, Alberta, he focuses on integrating the latest research with a compassionate understanding of each patient's unique needs. As the developer of the Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems, he views his role as both a practitioner and an educator, dedicated to sharing knowledge and techniques that can benefit the wider healthcare community. His ongoing efforts in teaching and practice aim to contribute positively to the field of musculoskeletal health, with a constant emphasis on patient-centered care and the collective advancement of treatment methods.


Elevate Your Practice Through the Multifaceted Approach of Motion Specific Release (MSR)

MSR isn't just another treatment system; it's a paradigm shift in musculoskeletal care that synthesizes diverse therapeutic modalities. This well-rounded approach addresses not just symptoms but the root causes of musculoskeletal conditions, providing more enduring and effective patient outcomes.

Immerse yourself in our courses to gain a rich array of both soft-tissue and osseous techniques that can be effortlessly integrated into your existing practice. Our curriculum is designed to bridge the gap between traditional medical science and innovative, evidence-based therapeutic methods, offering a holistic lens through which to view musculoskeletal diagnosis and treatment.

From orthopedic and neurological assessments to myofascial interventions and osseous manipulations, from acupressure techniques to kinetic chain evaluations, and functional exercise plans—MSR provides an all-encompassing toolkit for musculoskeletal care. By adopting the MSR system, you'll not only enhance your practice's clinical outcomes but also become a magnet for patient referrals. Take the leap into the next era of musculoskeletal therapy with our MSR courses and memberships.



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  3. Clark, J. M., & Harryman, D. T. (1992). Tendons, ligaments, and capsule of the rotator cuff. Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, 74(5), 713-725.

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  5. Ellenbecker, T. S., & Cools, A. (2010). Rehabilitation of Shoulder Impingement Syndrome and Rotator Cuff Injuries: An Evidence-Based Review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 44(5), 319-327.

  6. Ficklscherer A, Pietschmann MF, Bendiks M, Roßbach BP, Müller PE. "Clinical management of rotator cuff tears. Current concepts in cell-based therapy strategies." Orthopade. 2016 Feb;45(2):143-8. (Note: Article in German)

  7. Jobe, F. W., & Moynes, D. R. (1982). Delineation of Diagnostic Criteria and a Rehabilitation Program for Rotator Cuff Injuries. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 10(6), 336-339.

  8. Lapner P, Henry P, Athwal G, Moktar J, McNeil D, MacDonald P; Canadian Shoulder and Elbow Society (CSES). "Position statement: management of rotator cuff tears in adults." Can J Surg. 2023 Apr 21;66(2):E190-E195.

  9. Lewis, J. S., Green, A., & Wright, C. (2005). Subacromial impingement syndrome: The effect of changing posture on shoulder range of movement. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 35(2), 72-87.

  10. Magee, D. J. (2002). Orthopedic Physical Assessment. Saunders.

  11. Oh JH, Park MS, Rhee SM. "Treatment Strategy for Irreparable Rotator Cuff Tears." Clin Orthop Surg. 2018 Jun;10(2):119-134.

  12. Reinold, M. M., Wilk, K. E., Fleisig, G. S., Zheng, N., Barrentine, S. W., Chmielewski, T., ... & Andrews, J. R. (2004). Electromyographic Analysis of the Rotator Cuff and Deltoid Musculature During Common Shoulder External Rotation Exercises. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 34(7), 385-394.

  13. Ryösä A, Laimi K, Äärimaa V, Lehtimäki K, Kukkonen J, Saltychev M. "Surgery or conservative treatment for rotator cuff tear: a meta-analysis." Disabil Rehabil. 2017 Jul;39(14):1357-1363.

  14. Tyler, T. F., Nicholas, S. J., Roy, T., & Gleim, G. W. (2000). Quantification of posterior capsule tightness and motion loss in patients with shoulder impingement. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 28(5), 668-673.

  15. Yoon TH, Choi CH, Kim SJ, Choi YR, Yoon SP, Chun YM. "Attrition of rotator cuff without progression to tears during 2-5 years of conservative treatment for impingement syndrome." Arch Orthop Trauma Surg. 2019 Mar;139(3):377-382.


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