Shoulder injuries can be extremely debilitating. The pain and discomfort caused can lead to loss of sleep, difficulty lifting, and interfere with an ability to perform everyday tasks. Shoulder pain is often caused by injury to the rotator cuff resulting in inflammation.
The rotator cuff consists of a group of muscles and tendons that surround and stabilize the bones of the shoulder joint. It’s responsible for keeping the head of the humerus securely in the socket of the shoulder. The rotator cuff can be damaged by direct injury to the area or degenerative wear and tear caused over time, resulting in tears in the tendons connecting the muscles of the shoulder to the bones. (Very Well Health)
Rotator cuff tears result in painful inflammation of the muscles and tendons of the shoulder. This inflammation and weakening of the muscles causes pain, weakness, and lack of upper body mobility. Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:
- A dull aching pain deep in the shoulder
- Difficulty sleeping as a result of putting pressure on the injured shoulder
- Limited range of motion including difficulty reaching above one’s head or behind one’s back
- Weakness in the shoulder, making it difficult to lift or carry objects (Mayo Clinic)
Rotator cuff tears can be caused by acute injury or they can occur after repeated overuse of the shoulder. While risk for rotator cuff injuries increase with age, anyone can experience these kind of tears.
These types of injuries are caused by repetitive overhead arm motions and heavy overhead lifting. Certain jobs and sports increase the risk of injury. Tennis players, baseball players and archers all have a higher risk of rotator cuff tears. Carpenters and painters also experience a higher rate of rotator cuff injuries as well. (Mayo Clinic)
Fortunately, most cases of rotator cuff injury can be treated be non-surgical methods. It’s important to rest, implement at home self-care, and seek treatment from an orthopaedic physician when experiencing shoulder pain believed to be caused by rotator cuff damage. Since the condition can worsen overtime and without treatment, it’s important to seek immediate treatment so as to avoid needing surgery. Non-surgical treatments include:
- Rest – resting the shoulder from damaging activities will allow the body time to heal and it will reduce inflammation
- Ice – icing the area is an effective at-home treatment to reduce inflammation
- Medication – anti-inflammatory pain medication such as ibuprofen can be used to reduce pain
- Physical therapy – an orthopaedic physician will work with physical therapists to devise a personalized exercise plan to safely strengthen the shoulder muscles and improve range of motion
- Steroid injections – an orthopaedic physician may incorporate steroid injections into a patient’s treatment plan in order to effectively treat inflammation (eMedicine Health)
In rare cases when rotator cuff injuries do not respond to non-surgical treatment, surgery may be necessary. Rotator cuff surgical options include:
- Open rotator cuff repair – this involves a large incision, which fully exposes the shoulder bone. From there, the surgeon will repair the damaged area by removing damaged tissue and re-attach the tendons to the bone. The recovery time for open rotator cuff repair tends to be longer than other surgical options.
- Mini-open rotator cuff repair – this procedure is similar to that of the open rotator cuff repair but involves the use of an arthroscopic camera to see the damaged area, resulting in a smaller incision. The recovery time for mini-open rotator cuff repair is shorter but the procedure requires a surgeon experienced in arthroscopic surgical technique.
- Shoulder replacement surgery – in extreme cases where the tendons of the rotator cuff are damaged beyond regular repair, a patient may require a full shoulder joint replacement. (Very Well Health)
If you’re experiencing chronic shoulder pain or pain resulting from an injury, it’s time to see an orthopaedic specialist. The highly trained orthopaedic specialists at MidAmerica Orthopaedics Hand to Shoulder Clinic will help determine if pain is being caused by rotator cuff tears, and can create a personalized treatment plan to get your shoulder back to good health.
Dr. Adam F. Meisel, sports medicine and arthroscopy specialist at MidAmerica Orthopaedics, specializes in rotator cuff injuries and shoulder surgeries. Dr. Meisel’s goal is to help his patients regain and maintain their active lifestyles.
To schedule an appointment with the MidAmerica Orthopaedics Hand to Shoulder Clinic team, call (708) 237-7200. You can also request an appointment online.