The supraspinatus muscle runs along the top of the shoulder blade and inserts at the top of the arm, or humerus bone, and is one of the four rotator cuff muscles. A supraspinatus tear can occur from falling onto an outstretched arm, or from throwing activities.
Symptoms of a supraspinatus tendon tear
Symptoms of a supraspinatus tear include:
- Sharp pain in the shoulder at the time of injury.
- Pain when the arm is rotated outwards and upwards.
- Increased pain and weakness when the arm is raised sideways between a 60-degree arc.
Read more on how to diagnose a rotator cuff injury.
What is the supraspinatus muscle?
The supraspinatus muscle runs along the top of the shoulder blade and inserts at the top of the arm (humerus bone). It is one of the four rotator cuff muscles.
The main action of the supraspinatus muscle is to abduct the shoulder joint (lift your arm out sideways and upwards). It is an important muscle in throwing events, in particular slowing your arm down after releasing the implement.
Supraspinatus tear causes
A supraspinatus tendon tear is a common throwing injury. When you throw something, for example, a Javelin, you use the powerful chest muscles to propel it forwards. After you have released the Javelin your arm must decelerate. As a result, huge forces go through the supraspinatus and other rotator cuff muscles.
But few people bother to train these muscles. As a result, a muscle imbalance leaves the supraspinatus weak in comparison to the powerful ‘throwing muscles’.
A heavy fall onto the shoulder can also result in injuring this muscle. Injury can occur to the tendon as it inserts into the top of the shoulder on the humerus.
Treatment of a supraspinatus tendon rupture
What can the athlete do?
- At the time of injury apply ice. Do not apply directly to the skin but wrap in a wet tea towel to avoid ice burns.
- Ice can be applied for 15 minutes every 2 hours for the first day or two. From then on the frequency can be gradually reduced over a period of days.
- Rest. Continuing to use your arm when it is painful prevents your supraspinatus tear from healing.
- For a partial rupture, complete rest is best. Your shoulder should be immobilized in a sling or similar.
- See a sports injury specialist or doctor who can advise on treatment and rehabilitation.
- When your injury has healed and you are pain-free, begin rotator cuff rehabilitation exercises. These should include mobility, strengthening, and functional or sports-specific exercises should be done.
What can a Sports Injury professional do?
- If the rupture is partial, they will immobilize the arm and prescribe rest.
- Prescribe a rehabilitation program.
- A surgeon may operate on a total rupture.
Read more on the treatment and rehabilitation of rotator cuff tears.
References & further reading
- Namdari S, Baldwin K, Ahn A, et al. Performance after rotator cuff tear and operative treatment: a case-control study of major league baseball pitchers. J Athl Train 2011;46(3):296–302.
- Kuhn JE, Dunn WR, Sanders R, et al. Effectiveness of physical therapy in treating atraumatic full-thickness rotator cuff tears: a multicenter prospective cohort study. J Shoulder Elbow Surg 2013;22(10):1371–9.
- Ainsworth R, Lewis JS. Exercise therapy for the conservative management of full-thickness tears of the rotator cuff: a systematic review. Br J Sports Med 2007;41(4):200–10.
- Levy O, Mullett H, Roberts S, et al. The role of anterior deltoid re-education in patients with massive irreparable degenerative rotator cuff tears. J Shoulder Elbow Surg 2008;17(6):863–70.