Published on April 21, 2018

Rotator Cuff Injury 101

By Dr. James Snead, Orthopedic Surgeon, Sturdy Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Associates

It’s no secret that we are all itching to get outside as spring slowly approaches. Warm weather offers us the opportunity to get outside and get moving. With that, now makes it a good time to bring attention to an injury that can be associated with some of these outdoor activities such as baseball and tennis – a Rotator Cuff Injury. Your rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround your shoulder. If injury occurs, you may experience aches and pains as well as weakened shoulder muscles. Tearing one’s rotator cuff is a very common shoulder injury, with more than 3 million cases identified in the United States each year.

It’s important to know the cause, diagnosis, and treatment if you’re experiencing shoulder pain and suspect a rotator cuff injury.

A rotator cuff tear can be caused by either an injury and/or general deterioration. An injury-related tear might result from falling down on your outstretched arm, lifting something that is too heavy, or using a jerking motion with your arm. This can occur in conjunction with a broken collarbone or dislocated shoulder. For others, the tear occurs not from one swift action, but is the result of age-related wear and tear that occurs slowly over time. This type of tear is often referred to as a degenerative tear. Increased risk factors to tears include:

  • Overuse and stress from repetitive motions (such as sports activities, especially baseball and tennis, or work-related overhead motions)
  • Lack of blood supply (blood supply diminishes as we age, and can block the ability to repair damage)
  • Abnormal stress on healthy tissue can cause rotator cuff tear (such as that fall you took on a patch of ice or the ski slopes this winter)

The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear are noticeable, but may be passed off as just soreness or something that will go away. Most commonly, people experience pain when lying on the shoulder or lifting and lowering the arm, arm weakness, a “dull ache”, or a crackling when moving the affected shoulder. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, as it may be a rotator cuff injury – early diagnosis and treatment equal better outcomes and less damage. Your doctor will examine your shoulder and assess range of motion and strength, imaging tests may be recommended in order to diagnose the damage.

If it’s determined that you have indeed torn your rotator cuff, there are several treatment options to reduce pain and restore function. Rest, ice, activity modification, and physical therapy can be good treatment options to help you recover. However, if no pain relief is achieved, you have substantial loss of function, or there’s a complete or large tear, surgery may be suggested. Advancements in surgical techniques for rotator cuff repair allow for less invasive procedures. A good surgical option is arthroscopic tendon repair, which can provide restoration of your normal functioning with a relatively pain-free procedure. It involves your surgeon inserting a small camera into the shoulder joint and using those video images as a guide to re-attach the rotator cuff tendon. Arthroscopic repair is usually an outpatient procedure and is the least invasive method to repair a torn rotator cuff. Post-surgery patients should feel pain relief and increased shoulder strength.

With that being said, it’s important to stay active and exercise. Don’t be afraid to join in your favorite outdoor activity this spring, just be sure take measures to protect yourself. Performing regular stretching and strengthening exercises, warming your up body before strenuous activities and taking regular breaks - all can help prevent future injury.

Interested in health and improving your overall wellness? Visit our Spring into Wellness Fair on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 from 3 – 7 p.m. in the Hospital Auditorium.

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