What are the rotator cuff muscles?

Kristofer J. Jones, MD
Orthopedic Surgery
There are four rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder. The first one is the supraspinatus, which is on the top of the shoulder. It initiates and assists the deltoid muscle with shoulder abduction. The infraspinatus muscle and the teres minor muscle lie on top of the shoulder blade at the back of the shoulder; they assist with external rotation of the shoulder. The subscapularis muscle is located in the front and assists with internal rotation. All these muscles work in coordination to provide these complex motions for daily living, and they also work in a coordinated fashion to keep the humeral head centered on the glenoid socket (the socket of the shoulder). It's important for all of these muscles to be equally as strong and as healthy as one another in order to coordinate function as you move the shoulder around.

The rotator cuff consists of four muscles--the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor. Each of these four muscles has an attachment from the shoulder blade (scapula) to the upper arm bone (humerus). The rotator cuff muscles function to stabilize the shoulder joint along with other surrounding structures (i.e. ligaments, labrum, and tendons). Additionally, these muscles act to rotate the arm inwardly (internal rotation) and outwardly (external rotation).

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