The rotator cuff consists of muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder in place. It is one of the most important parts of the shoulder.
As people age and their physical activity decreases, tendons begin to lose strength. This weakening can lead to a rotator cuff tear. Rotator cuff injuries occasionally occur in younger people, but most of them happen to middle-aged or older adults who already have shoulder problems. This area of the body has a poor supply of blood, making it more difficult for the tendons to repair and maintain themselves. As a person ages, these tendons degenerate. Using your arm overhead puts pressure on the rotator cuff tendons. Repetitive movement or stress to these tendons can lead to impingement, in which the tissue or bone in that area becomes misaligned and rubs or chafes.
The rotator cuff tendons can be injured or torn by trying to lift a very heavy object while the arm is extended, or by trying to catch a heavy falling object.
The following are the most common symptoms of a rotator cuff tear. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Recurrent pain, especially with certain activities
- Pain that prevents sleeping on the injured side
- Grating or cracking sounds when moving the arm
- Limited ability to move arm
- Muscle weakness
The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.
How is a Rotator Cuff Injury Diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for a rotator cuff injury may include the following:
- X-ray. A diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
A rotator cuff may tear partially or fully. Partial tears do not completely sever the tendon from the shoulder.
Treatment for a Rotator Cuff Injury
Specific treatment for a rotator cuff injury will be determined by your doctor based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of the condition
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the condition
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
- Strengthening and stretching exercises
- Ultrasound therapy
- Corticosteroid injection
- Surgery (for severe injuries)
Treatment depends on the severity of the injury. If the tear is not complete, your health care provider may recommend RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Resting the shoulder is probably the most important part of treatment, although after the pain has eased, you should begin physical therapy to regain shoulder movement. Your doctor may prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) for pain.
To learn more about rotator cuff injuries or to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopaedic specialists, please visit http://www.neorthohospital.com.