Rotator cuff pain – What is it?

How’s your pickleball game going?

Are you having weakness or pain in your shoulder joint, especially with an outstretched arm to the side or overhead? Do you have a dull ache in your shoulder, which often worsens when you try to sleep on the involved side? Has it become difficult to repeatedly crush overheads on the pickleball court? If so, you may be suffering from pathology of the rotator cuff muscles.

The rotator cuff consists of four small muscles named the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis. Each of these muscle originate from the scapula(wing bone) and attach via a tendon to the head(top part) of the humerus(long bone of the upper arm). Together, they stabilize the shoulder joint, especially with abduction(moving the arm away from the side of the body) and flexion(moving the arm away from the front of the body). These muscles also perform external rotation(backhand movement) and internal rotation(forehand movement) of the shoulder.

Rotator cuff injuries are often related to forceful overhead motions, and can easily develop while playing pickleball. The most common injuries include muscle strain, tendinitis, bursitis, and muscle/tendon tears (worst case scenario). In part two I will discuss the best prevention of rotator cuff injury, including simple exercises to improve muscle strength. In part three, I will discuss treatment options following acute and chronic injuries to the rotator cuff muscles.

rotator cuff
rotator cuff

As a licensed physical therapist of over 17 years—and a pickleball addict—I will continue to share my knowledge and tips with you because I want pickleball players of all ages to enjoy this wonderful sport pain free. Pay attention to the aches and pains (they’re telling you something) and learn how to make them better. Pickleball pain free is the best!!

This post is Part 1 of 3. See Health Topic for future posts.

14 comments on “Rotator cuff pain – What is it?”

  1. I am a newly certified instructor and teach at a facility that now has 200 club members and 6 courts. Shoulder pain is common. Being a recovering tennis player of 60 years (had to stop playing. Thank god for pickleball), 1 separated shoulder and 6 weeks of therapy for micro rotator cuff tears, I have become acutely aware of how people hit the ball. What makes me wince the most is a forehand hit at should level with the wrist still turned as it was a shot below the waist. As a tennis player, my muscle memory rotates my wrist.

    Are there any sources that help instructors to see improper motions that will clearly cause rotator cuff strain if not corrected.


    Thanks for this blog. I am going to PT right now. I’m hoping to start playing again ASAP. I have overreached and have pulled my shoulder. Wow does it ache. Any help you can give me will be appreciated. Thanks.


  3. Thanks very much for the helpful information. I’m wondering if there is a Pickleball paddle that absorbs the shock and eases the pressure on the rotator cuff.

  4. Phyllis Pascazio

    This is exactly the kind of information I am looking for. I had rotator cuff surgery about 3 years ago, and things were pretty good for a while, but now that I’ve taken up pickleball, I can barely raise my arm out to the side after only two times playing. Not a good sign for my future as a pickleball player. I’m hoping to avoid another surgery, so I may have to forego my desire to play, but I’m going to try the strengthening routines and see how things progress. Thank you for this information.

  5. Thanks for the information on rotator cuff muscle injuries. Do you have any suggestions on types of pickleball paddles that are best to use with this type of injury? I am looking forward to parts 2 and 3. Thanks, Diane

    1. Hello Diane, check out the HEALTH Topic to find part 2 and 3. Paddle weight is always important, not too heavy!! I always suggest paddle weight should be around 7.5 ounces..

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. The description of pain and biomechanics involved in the overhead swing with Pickleball is bang on! I too look forward to your tips on what I can do to strengthen my rotator cup.


  7. Thanks for the info on rotator cuff muscles this seems to be my problem i have been going to the Gym and using weights for 29 yrs and never had a problem but playing Pickle Ball the soreness causes me to sleep on the opposite side and i need a couple of days break to play again so i am looking forward to parts 2 and 3. Thank you David

  8. I recently had an MRI because I was in so much pain I was sure something major was going on with my shoulder….but it was just exactly what you described. I thought I was in good shape because I workout regularly but I actually had weak shoulders muscles. I’ve been going to a physical therapist and he has me doing very specific exercises. I’m getting stronger but I’m still afraid to play pickleball! I miss it!!

  9. Thank you so much for talking about this issue ! I have shoulder pain and was wondering what might be causing it. I’m looking forward to learning about the exercises that might keep my shoulder from getting worse. This information also lets me talk with my doctor with more confidence and knowledge. Thank you!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top