To understand what a rotator cuff injury is, you must first understand the rotator cuff itself. The rotator cuff comprises four muscles and tendons that help stabilize the shoulder while also helping to move the arm. It is a crucial component in being able to lift your arm and reach upward. The rotator cuff is a commonly injured area, with most of the injuries being related to strains, tears or tendinitis.
What causes an injury to the rotator cuff?
The shoulder is one of the most complex joints in the body and is susceptible to everyday wear and tear. A rotator cuff tear is a common injury within the shoulder. The two main causes of a rotator cuff tear are injury and degeneration. Injuries that seem as harmless as falling on an outstretched hand can cause enough damage to tear the tendon. Degenerative tears are the result of the tendon being worn down over time.
What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff injury?
Tears from an injury usually result in immense sudden pain while those that are degenerative recognize a slower onset of pain. We have gathered some of the most common symptoms of an injury to the rotator cuff. It is important to be mindful that a rotator cuff injury can resemble other injuries so a physician can provide you with the most accurate diagnosis.
- Recurring pain, especially with certain activities or movements
- Pain while at rest and at night
- Limited mobility of the arm
- Weakness when lifting or rotating your arm
Who is at risk for rotator cuff injuries?
Given that rotator cuff injuries are commonly caused by degenerative reasons, they are seen frequently in people over 40 years old. Those who do repetitive lifting or overhead activities are also at risk of injuring their rotator cuff. Athletes, such as tennis players and baseball pitchers, are prime examples given the repetitive movements they perform.
How is a rotator cuff injury diagnosed?
A rotator cuff can be partially or fully torn which can be determined more accurately through an MRI. Ultimately, your physician will determine the best treatment for your specific rotator cuff injury.
How is a rotator cuff injury treated?
Depending on the severity of your injury, it can be treated conservatively with:
- Limiting overhead activities and allowing your body to rest is the first step in allowing your rotator cuff the chance to heal.
- Anti-inflammatories – such as ibuprofen or aspirin can be taken to reduce your pain and swelling.
- Physical Therapy – A Physical Therapist will explore exercises that restore movement and strengthen the shoulder. Improving your flexibility and range of motion are of utmost importance when working with a torn rotator cuff. As the muscles supporting the shoulder are strengthened, your discomfort will subside.
- Corticosteroid Injections – If your daily activities or sleep are difficult, a steroid injection into the shoulder joint can be beneficial. Cortisone is a very effective anti-inflammatory but is a temporary solution to reducing your shoulder pain. Typically, other methods of pain relief are tried prior to a steroid injection.
- Rotator Cuff Repair – If non-surgical methods are not effective, your physician might recommend a surgical procedure to repair the torn rotator cuff. During the procedure, the tendon that has been torn is re-attached to the head of the humerus. There are a few options when it comes to repairing rotator cuff injuries and your physician will discuss with you which is best for you.