What is the rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles and tendons that attach the shoulder blade and ribs to the humerus. Rotator cuffs help to stabilize the shoulder joint and aid in the movement of the shoulder and arms. Repetitive physical activity involving the upper body can lead to degenerative overuse injuries over time. Acute traumatic injuries can also occur.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include pain in the shoulder and the upper arm, especially when reaching upward and out. Rotator cuff tears can also cause weakness of the shoulder, making lifting and carrying difficult. Pain may be dull and aching during the night. Some people experience a crackling sensation when the joint moves a particular way.
Conservative interventions for rotator cuff injuries include steroid injections to decrease inflammation, shockwave therapy, and dry needling. If less invasive treatments fail to provide relief, or if there is a complete tear, surgery may be needed. An orthopedic surgeon will make a small incision to go in and repair the damage. More severe injuries may require an open surgical procedure where a larger incision is made to allow for repairs.
Due to normal wear and tear, people over 40 have a higher risk of developing degenerative shoulder injuries. Other risk factors include repetitive lifting, pushing and reaching, as well as overhead activities like tennis, baseball, painting, and carpentry. Family history may be a factor in developing rotator cuff injuries. Though degenerative damage is the most common reason, rotator cuff tears can also happen in younger people due to trauma, such as from a fall.
Can a rotator cuff injury be prevented?
A few practical lifestyle changes can help prevent rotator cuff injuries. Posture is essential because slouching of the head and shoulder can lead to damage over time. Smoking decreases blood flow to the rotator cuff, so quitting is crucial. Avoid activities with repetitive overhead arm action, and don’t lay on the shoulders during sleep. Knowing the risk factors, and being mindful of the causes is key to prevention. For more information about shoulder injuries and treatment options, speak with an orthopedic specialist.