Learn More About Rotator Cuff Injuries

Understanding Rotator Cuff Injuries

The term "Rotator cuff" is used to describe a group of four separate muscles that keep your shoulder in its shallow socket while larger muscles move it. Strains and injuries to the rotator cuff are often the main cause for people experiencing shoulder problems, accounting for 4.5 million doctor visits per year. The severity of the injury is classified by the amount of damage such as "partial tears", "full thickness tears" or "ruptures". A "partial tear" refers to a situation  that one side of your tendon has been partially frayed.

A "full thickness tear", sometimes called a "complete tear", describes a situation where there is a 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 classified as the most serious form injury and means that your tendon has been torn into two pieces. 

Causes Of Rotator Cuff Injuries

It is not common for rotator cuff injures to be cuased by an acute injury, and in fact less than 10% of rotator cuff tears are the result of falling, pushing, pulling, throwing or lifting. The vast majority of injuries are the result of constant and repetitive strains over a long period of time. One of the most frequent ways that patients develop a rotator cuff tear is something called "impingement". Impingement simply means that the part of your shoulder where your rotator cuff tendon is has become too crowded and the rotator cuff tendon is being pinched each time you raise your arm. Studies have found that those who perform repeated overhead activities are at greatest risk for impingement and rotator cuff tendon problems.

These individuals include 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. Other known risk factors for rotator cuff problems include smoking, obesity, high cholesterol and prior cortisone injection. 

Symptoms Of Rotator Cuff Injuries

Patients who have suffered an acute rotator cuff injury often report a "tearing" or "snapping" sensation that is often followed by severe pain and weakness. Most chronic strains begin silently with symptoms becoming more and more serious and noticeable as the tear progresses.

Pain is primarily found in the front and outside of your shoulder but can also sometimes radiate down your arm. Symptoms can be made worst by overhead activity and may progress to the point that you have difficulty raising your arm overhead. Pain is found to be considerably worse at night, especially when you lie on the affected shoulder. Always notify your doctor if you suffer from significant neck pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, or chest pressure. 

Treating Rotator Cuff Injuries

Young patients who have suffered an acute tear or rupture may in some cases require surgery, while most others will benefit from more conservative treatments, like the type provided in this office. Be sure to avoid painful overhead activities or carrying heavy objects.

It might also be suggested not to sleep on your irritated side, especially with your arm stretched overhead. You may benefit by sleeping on your unaffected side and seek support with a pillow between your arm and trunk. Smokers should also consider a program to help them quit, and overweight patients will be able to have a quicker and more effective recovery if they begin a diet and exercise program. Performing your home exercises is especially important.

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