Experiencing a Rotator Cuff Injury?
You are not alone. A rotator cuff injury is the reason approximately two million people in the United States visit their doctor each year, making it one of the most prevalent shoulder problems. Your rotator cuff plays a significant role in your arm’s ability to function properly. It keeps your arm within its socket, and allows your arm to lift and rotate. When a rotator cuff injury occurs, it can not only be painful, but also debilitating.
Whether you suspect you have sustained a rotator cuff injury or want to learn how to prevent one from occurring (or recurring), we encourage you to seek treatment as soon as possible. Our Shoulder Specialists at EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region comprise a world-class team of board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedists expertly skilled in identifying, treating, and managing rotator cuff injuries. Our physician-owned practice utilizes the most advanced medical approaches and techniques to provide patients with the best available care in the region.
Types of Rotator Cuff Injuries and Their Symptoms
Let’s briefly go over the shoulder’s anatomy. The shoulder joint is made up of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and collarbone (clavicle). The head of the upper arm bone sits within a socket called a glenoid. A network of muscles and tendons (rotator cuff) cover the head of the upper arm bone and secure it within the socket. The rotator cuff also attaches the upper arm bone to the shoulder blade, allowing your arm to lift and rotate.
Rotator cuff injuries typically fall within one of these three categories:
- Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
When one or more of the tendons that connect the muscles are irritated and swollen. If left untreated or aggravated, it can cause pain, limited range of motion, and limited function.
- Partial Rotator Cuff Tear
When one or more of the tendons partially tear, causing them to fray. If left untreated or aggravated, it can cause pain, limited range of motion and lead to a full-thickness tear.
- Full-Thickness Rotator Cuff Tear
When the tendon fully tears to the point of becoming severed from the bone. If left untreated or aggravated, it can cause significant pain and limited function. If treatment is delayed, full-thickness tears can become more difficult to repair surgically. Over many years sometimes untreated full-thickness tears can also lead to shoulder arthritis.
Rotator cuff injuries are typically sustained via the following:
- Sudden, traumatic injury caused by falling on your shoulder, lifting something too heavy, a sports injury, forceful impact, or another associated injury.
- Natural degeneration caused by every day “wear-and-tear” from aging or heavy overuse. This is the most common cause of rotator cuff injuries.
Symptoms vary depending on the type and severity of the injury, but usually include:
- Pain from a sudden injury
- Arm weakness
- Pain that develops/worsens over time from a degenerative injury
- Shoulder movement with cracking/popping sensation
- Pain when lifting, rotating, or resting the arm
Rotator Cuff Injury Treatment Options
At the conclusion of an in-depth consultation with your doctor, an appropriate treatment plan will be selected. It may include nonsurgical and/or surgical methodologies.
Approximately 80% of patients with rotator cuff tendonitis/tears reported improved functionality and less pain as a result of nonsurgical treatments. Nonsurgical treatment options include:
- Pain relief/Anti-inflammatory medication
- Activity restrictions
- Steroid injections
- Physical therapy/Strengthening exercises
For some individuals, this may be sufficient. However, if the injury is too severe or does not respond to nonsurgical treatments, surgery may be recommended.
Generally, one of three surgical options is performed on the rotator cuff (depending on the size, location and severity of the tear):
Needing only a small incision, this minimally invasive procedure involves the shoulder surgeon inserting a small camera into the shoulder joint and using miniature surgical instruments to perform the surgery. During an arthroscopic procedure, the shoulder surgeon will be able to evaluate and repair the tear, as well as shave and/or remove any spurs that may have formed. Our Shoulder Specialists at EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region use arthroscopy to repair rotator cuff tears, leading to less post-surgical pain and scar tissue formation.
- Mini-Open Surgery
This procedure first utilizes arthroscopic techniques to assess and treat minimal damage, such as the removal of bone spurs. Once that portion of the surgery is completed, the rotator cuff is repaired through a small incision.
- Open Surgery
Through a shoulder incision, the surgeon detaches the deltoid muscle to gain access to the tear. This type of surgery is usually reserved for tears that are too large, severe and/or complex.
Rotator Cuff Injury Prevention
Rotator cuff injury prevention typically falls into one of two categories: preventing one from happening in the first place, and preventing one from reoccurring.
Occurrence prevention tips include:
- Performing exercises that strengthen your rotator cuff muscles and tendons
- Enforcing proper technique and conditioning if performing activities/actions that involve ample overhead use and/or repetitive motions
- Allowing minor shoulder pain/injuries to properly heal before returning to activities that put stress on them
- Refraining from shoulder overexertion
Even if you have already gone through a rotator cuff injury and its treatment process, an injury can recur if not properly looked after. Tips to prevent rotator cuff injury recurrence include the above tips, as well as the following:
- Following your doctor’s rehabilitation instructions carefully and accurately
- Abstaining from activities/actions that could stress your rotator cuff before it is fully healed
- Participating in a physical therapy program to regain rotator cuff strength and flexibility
- Avoiding injury to the healing shoulder
Trust the team at EmergeOrtho–Triangle Region for all of your rotator cuff injury needs. Click here to schedule an appointment at one of our locations or contact us at (919) 220-5255.