Do you experience pain in your shoulder when doing everyday tasks like getting dressed or combing your hair? One explanation for this might be a torn rotator cuff, a condition that weakens the shoulder and is a common diagnosis for shoulder pain in adults.
Manhattan orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Francis Mendoza, will explain the most common causes of rotator cuff injuries and how to most effectively treat them.
What Is a Rotator Cuff Injury?
The rotator cuff is a set of tendons and muscles surrounding the shoulder joint. It keeps the top of your upper arm bone firmly planted in the correct position in the shallow shoulder socket. An injury to the rotator cuff can cause a persistent, dull ache in the shoulder, which can worsen if you tend to sleep on the affected side.
Rotator cuff injuries are most prevalent in those who perform repeated overhead motions in the course of their occupation or during sports. Occasionally, a tear to the rotator cuff is the result of a specific injury. Most people with the injury will recover after completing physical therapy, which focuses on improving the strength and flexibility of the muscles surrounding the shoulder.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Rotator Cuff Injuries?
Rotator cuff disease (degeneration) can occur because of a significant shoulder injury, or it can manifest after repeated wear and tear of the tendon tissue. Additionally, repeated overhead motions like heavy lifting over a long period or the presence of bone spurs, which can rub against and damage tendons, can also lead to the condition.
There are two main causes of rotator cuff tears – degeneration and acute tears.
Acute Tear: This occurs if you fall onto your outstretched arm or attempt to lift a heavy object in a jerking motion. This kind of injury can also occur with other shoulder injuries like a broken collarbone or dislocated shoulder.
Degenerative Tear: These tears occur after the tendon surrounding the shoulder joint slowly degrades over time. Although some tendon degeneration is normal as you age, most rotator cuff tears happen in the dominant arm. If you suffer from a degenerative tear in your dominate shoulder, you are at increased risk of experiencing a rotator cuff tear in the opposite shoulder – even if you aren’t experiencing any pain in that shoulder.
Many factors play a role in developing degenerative, or chronic, injury to the rotator cuff.
Repetitive Stress: Constantly performing the same motions can cause stress to the rotator cuff’s muscles and tendons. Activities like baseball, tennis, weightlifting and rowing are all examples of sports that can contribute to overuse tears. Many repetitive jobs and chores can also lead to overuse tears.
Lack of Blood Supply: As we age, the amount of blood pumped to the rotator cuff lessens.
Without adequate blood circulation, the body’s ability to repair tendons is reduced. This naturally occurring process can eventually lead to a rotator cuff injury.
Bone Spurs: As we get older, bone spurs (overgrowth) are more likely to grow on the underside of the acromion bone. As we lift our arms, the spurs rub against the tendon of the rotator cuff. This disorder is called shoulder impingement. Over time, the spurs will weaken tendons and make them prone to tearing.
What Are the Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Injury?
The most noticeable symptoms of rotator cuff injuries are:
- A dull ache deep within the shoulder
- Difficulty in sleeping, especially on the injured shoulder
- Difficulty is performing normal tasks like combing your hair or reaching behind your back
- Arm weakness
Where Can I Get Treatment for My Rotator Cuff Injury?
If you believe you might be suffering from a torn rotator cuff, it’s vital to make an appointment with an orthopedic doctor who specializes in shoulder injuries and will examine you to discern the severity of your injury.
In most cases, a conservative treatment approach is successful in improving the symptoms of a rotator cuff injury. However, when conservative treatments fail, it may be necessary to undergo arthroscopic surgery to repair the rotator cuff injury.
You don’t have to live with debilitating shoulder pain. Make an appointment today with Dr. Mendoza at 212-628-9600 or fill out the form on his homepage to request an appointment.