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Rotator Cuff Injuries: The MSR Solution

Updated: Jul 4

Rotator Cuff Image

The rotator cuff is a remarkable collection of muscles and tendons that grant the shoulder joint its impressive range of motion and stability. Whether you're an athlete or someone who enjoys an active lifestyle, keeping your rotator cuff in good health is essential for performing overhead activities and maintaining upper body flexibility.

In this article, we will explore the fascinating intricacies of the rotator cuff, breaking down its anatomy and biomechanics in an engaging and understandable way. Using an evidence-based approach, we will showcase Motion Specific Release (MSR) techniques designed to relieve restrictions and enhance function. We'll also highlight how the rotator cuff works within the upper limb kinetic chain, influencing overall musculoskeletal health. To make this learning experience even better, video demonstrations will be provided to help practitioners grasp these concepts effectively.

Article Index:


Anatomy & Biomechanics of the Rotator Cuff Muscles

Anatomy of the Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff is a remarkable group of four muscles—supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis—that come together to form a sheath of tendons around the head of the humerus. This powerful musculotendinous unit is essential for shoulder dynamics, enabling a wide range of movements while keeping the joint stable.

Supraspinatus Muscle

The supraspinatus muscle is key to initiating arm abduction and stabilizing 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.

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

  • Biomechanical Role: The supraspinatus muscle is crucial in the first 15 degrees of arm abduction and collaborates with the deltoid muscle to continue abduction beyond this initial phase.

Infraspinatus Muscle

The infraspinatus muscle significantly contributes to the lateral rotation of the arm at the shoulder and aids in stabilizing the shoulder joint.

  • Origin and Insertion: It arises from the infraspinous fossa of the scapula and attaches to the greater tubercle of the humerus.

  • Innervation: Like the supraspinatus, it is innervated by the suprascapular nerve, with roots primarily from C5 and C6.

  • Biomechanical Role: The infraspinatus muscle is vital for the external rotation of the humerus and helps maintain the humeral head in the glenoid cavity during various arm movements.

Rotator Cuff Anatomy Image

Teres Minor Muscle

The Teres Minor complements the infraspinatus by enhancing lateral rotation of the arm and contributing to the overall stability of the shoulder joint.

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

  • Innervation: It is innervated by the axillary nerve, with roots from C5 and C6.

  • Biomechanical Role: The Teres Minor serves as a shoulder adductor and external rotator, working in tandem 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 plays a key role in shoulder stability.

  • Origin and Insertion: This muscle originates from the subscapular fossa and inserts into the lesser tubercle of the humerus.

  • Innervation: The subscapular nerves, arising from the posterior cord of the brachial plexus (C5-C7), innervate the subscapularis.

  • Biomechanical Role: The Subscapularis acts as a powerful internal rotator of the humerus, holding the humeral head against the glenoid fossa, especially during arm-lowering movements.


Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment

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.


Kinetic Chain Image

Rotator Cuff Functional Kinetic Chains

The rotator cuff plays a crucial role in the shoulder's kinetic chain through direct connections, synergistic actions, antagonistic forces, and stabilizing influences that maintain shoulder integrity and function. Considering this kinetic chain is essential in addressing rotator cuff issues because it highlights the interconnectedness of the shoulder with the rest of the body. By understanding these relationships, practitioners can develop more comprehensive treatment plans that target not only the rotator cuff but also the surrounding muscles and joints, leading to more effective and sustainable results.

Direct Connections

  • Glenohumeral Ligaments: These ligaments intertwine with rotator cuff tendons, stabilizing the shoulder during rotation and abduction.

  • Coracoacromial Arch: Formed by the coracoid process, acromion, and coracoacromial ligament, this arch protects the rotator cuff tendons, with the subacromial bursa ensuring smooth movements.


  • Deltoid: Collaborates with the supraspinatus for abduction, providing primary force beyond the initial degrees.

  • Scapular Stabilizers: The serratus anterior, trapezius, and levator scapulae synchronize scapular motion with the rotator cuff for optimal shoulder mechanics.


  • Rhomboids and Levator Scapulae: Maintain scapular stability by counteracting the protraction and depression forces of the serratus anterior and lower trapezius.

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


  • Pectoralis Major: Balances the external rotation provided by the infraspinatus and teres minor, aiding in internal rotation and adduction.

  • Latissimus Dorsi: Opposes the rotator cuff's abduction and external rotation, assisting in adduction and extension of the upper limb.

These dynamic interactions within the kinetic chain allow the rotator cuff to perform complex shoulder movements with precision and stability. Understanding these connections is key for effective Motion Specific Release (MSR) techniques that enhance rotator cuff function and rehabilitation.



The exercises provided are examples of what might be recommended for individuals with rotator cuff issues. A fundamental principle in prescribing exercises involves a progression: starting with mobility exercises, followed by strengthening exercises, and finishing with proprioceptive exercises. The specific exercises selected will depend on the individual's unique 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.



  1. Abelson, B., Abelson, K., & Mylonas, E. (2018, February). A Practitioner's Guide to Motion Specific Release, Functional, Successful, Easy to Implement Techniques for Musculoskeletal Injuries (1st edition). Rowan Tree Books.

  2. Brolin TJ, Updegrove GF, Horneff JG. "Classifications in Brief: Hamada Classification of Massive Rotator Cuff Tears." Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2017 Nov;475(11):2819-2823.

  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.

  4. Cortes A, Quinlan NJ, Nazal MR, Upadhyaya S, Alpaugh K, Martin SD. "A value-based care analysis of magnetic resonance imaging in patients with suspected rotator cuff tendinopathy and the implicated role of conservative management." J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2019 Nov;28(11):2153-2160.

  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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Photo of Dr. Brian Abelson

Dr. Abelson is dedicated to using evidence-based practices to improve musculoskeletal health. At Kinetic Health in Calgary, Alberta, he combines the latest research with a compassionate, patient-focused approach. As the creator of the Motion Specific Release (MSR) Treatment Systems, he aims to educate and share techniques to benefit the broader healthcare community. His work continually emphasizes patient-centred care and advancing treatment methods.


MSR Instructor Mike Burton Smiling

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