This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Generations Magazine.

We have all heard the term “rotator cuff.” What is a rotator cuff?

A group of four muscles: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor that connects the shoulder blade (scapula) to the arm bone (humerus).

The rotator cuff tendons are key to a healthy functioning shoulder. They are subject to wear and tear or degeneration, as we use our arms.

Occasionally, the muscles or tendons of the rotator cuff become irritated or damaged because of injury or overuse.

What are the Risk Factors?

  • Over the age 40
  • Impingement syndrome
  • Poor posture
  • Muscle/joint tightness
  • Repetitive overhead motions

Vernon G. Campbell Lcdr/NC/USN/Ret (Lieutenant Commander U.S. Navy Retired Nurse Corps) age 65, an exercise enthusiast, stated he suffered with chronic shoulder pain and while exercising in warm water, he’s noticed improved mobility and strength with significantly less pain. As a result, he has been able to resume a normal exercise regimen without pain or discomfort.

What are the Symptoms?

  • Shoulder pain
  • Upper arm pain
  • Pain/weakness lifting the
  • arm
  • Pain/weakness reaching
  • Pain lying on the shoulder

Performing rotator cuff exercises in warm water can help to strengthen the muscles and make it less painful during rehabilitation.

The Journal of Orthopedic and Sports Physical Therapy published a study that compared the effects of land and water exercises on the rotator cuff. It was found that the water’s buoyancy minimizes the amount of stress on the shoulder and the resistance created by the water actually improved the effectiveness of the exercises. The study concluded, aquatic therapy allows for earlier rehabilitation after surgery or injury without compromising the patient’s safety.

So when traditional therapy is too painful to endure, aquatic therapy can offer an early start to rehabilitating the rotator cuff and allow for a speedy recovery.