Understanding Rotator Cuff Injuries
The term "Rotator cuff" is used to describe a group of four small muscles that are used to hold your shoulder in its small socket while larger muscles move it. Strains and injuries to the rotator cuff are among the most common causes of shoulder problems, accounting for nearly 4.5 million doctor visits per year. Injuries are often classified by the severity of damage to the area, and are broken up into categories known as "partial tears", "full thickness tears" or "ruptures".
A "partial tear" condition means that one side of your tendon has been partially frayed. A "full thickness tear", also known as a "complete tear", describes 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 problematic and serious injury that you can suffer and means that your tendon has been torn into two pieces.
Less than 10% of rotator cuff tears are caused by an action such as falling, pushing, pulling, throwing or lifting. Rather the vast majority of injuries are the result of repetitive strains that occur over a long period of time. Perhaps one of the most frequent causes for patients to develop a rotator cuff tear is something called "impingement". Impingement essentially means that the area where your rotator cuff tendon lives has become too tight and the rotator cuff tendon is being squeezed every time you lift your arm.
If you are someone who performs repeated overhead activities you are at the greatest risk for impingement and rotator cuff tendon problems. 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. Besides lifting objects overhead there are other known risk factors for rotator cuff problems such as smoking, obesity, high cholesterol and prior cortisone injection.
Patients who have gone through an acute rotator cuff injury in many cases report a "tearing" or "snapping" sensation accompanied by severe pain and weakness. Most chronic strains begin silently with symptoms becoming more and more evident over time as the tear progresses and becomes worse. Pain is often focused in the front and outside of your shoulder but can also at times run down your arm.
Symptoms are usually made worsened by overhead activity and may progress to the point that you are unabe to life your arm or have difficulty raising your arm overhead. Pain is in many cases made worse at night, especially when you lie on the side with your affected shoulder. Be sure to inform your doctor if you suffer from significant neck pain, shortness of breath, chest pain or chest pressure.
Young patients who have suffered an acute tear or rupture may be recommended to undergo a surgical procedure to fix the damage, 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. Try not to sleep on your side that is injured and not to extend your arm over your head when you sleep. You may in some cases benefit by sleeping on your unaffected side with a pillow between your arm and trunk. Smokers are recommended to consider a program to help them quit, and overweight patients will recover quicker if they begin pursue a more healthy diet and some form of consistent exercise program. Performing your home exercises is especially important.