Learn more about rotator cuff injuries and how to get pain free.
The term "Rotator cuff" is used to describe a group of four small muscles that hold your shoulder in its shallow socket while larger muscles move it. Strains and damage to the rotator cuff are the most common cause of problems in the shoulder as well as shoulder pain, accounting for 4.5 million doctor visits per year. Injuries are classified by the amount of damage as "partial tears", "full thickness tears" or "ruptures".
A "partial tear" refers to when one side of your tendon has been partially frayed. A "full thickness tear", sometimes called a "complete tear", means that there is a hole or slit in your tendon, much like what would be created by running a knife length-wise down a rope. A "rupture" is the most severe and serious injury that you can sustain with your rotator cuff and it means that your tendon has been split in two pieces.
The majority of rotator cuff tears are not the result of an acute injury like falling, pushing, pulling, throwing or lifting. Rather, most of the injuries are the result of repetitive strains over a long period of time. Of all the causes of rotator cuff injuries perhaps the most common for the condition to develop is a rotator cuff tear that is something called "impingement". Impingement essentially means that the area where your rotator cuff tendon lives has become too crowded and the rotator cuff tendon is being pinched each time you raise your arm.
Those who perform repeated overhead activities are at greatest risk for impingement and rotator cuff tendon problems. Some common types of people that this includes athletes who play baseball, volleyball, tennis, rowing, weight lifting, swimming and archery, and jobs that include carpentry, painting, wall paper hanging, cleaning windows and washing/waxing cars. There are also other known risks that factor in for rotator cuff problems such as smoking, obesity, high cholesterol and prior cortisone injection.
For individuals who have suffered an acute rotator cuff injury often report a "tearing" or "snapping" sensation accompanied by severe pain and weakness. Most chronic strains beginwith mild symptoms that become more evident as the tear progresses.
Pain is often centralized to the front and outside of your shoulder but can sometimes radiate down your arm. Symptoms are usually made worse by overhead activity and may progress to the point that you have difficulty raising your arm overhead. Pain is often made worse at night, especially when you lie on the affected shoulder. Be sure to tell us if you suffer from significant neck pain, shortness of breath, chest pain or chest pressure.
For younger patients who have suffered an acute tear or rupture may require surgery, while most others will benefit from conservative treatments, like the type provided in this office. Always try to avoid painful overhead activity or carrying heavy objects.
Try not to sleep on your irritated side, especially with your arm stretched overhead. You may also benefit by sleeping on your unaffected side with a pillow between your arm and trunk. If you are a patient who smokes if may be best to consider a program to help them quit, and overweight patients will recover quicker if they begin a diet and exercise program. Performing your home exercises is also very important to helping you get pain free.