Shoulder injuries can be very aggravating and, in some cases, unbearable to deal with, making it difficult to get through the day. One of the most common shoulder injuries is a rotator cuff tear. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, keeping your upper arm bone firmly within the socket of the shoulder. An injury to the rotator cuff can cause a dull ache in the shoulder. Sometimes, rotator cuff tears may happen because of a single injury. In those situations, medical care should be provided as soon as possible.
The pain associated with a rotator cuff injury may:
- Be described as a dull ache deep in the shoulder
- Disturb sleep, particularly if you lie on the injured shoulder
- Make it difficult to comb your hair or reach behind your back
- Be accompanied by arm weakness
Anyone is susceptible to a tear in their rotator cuff. However, some may be at a higher risk than others. Athletes who regularly use repetitive arm motions such as baseball pitchers, quarterbacks, archers, and tennis players have a greater chance of having a rotator cuff injury. Occupations such as construction, carpentry, or house painting require repetitive arm motions, often overhead, that can damage the rotator cuff over time. Unfortunately, as you get older your risk of a rotator cuff injury increases. Rotator cuff tears are most common in people older than 40.
There are different approaches your doctor can offer depending on the severity of your injury. These range from conservative treatments, physical therapy, injections, or for more severe tears surgery may be needed.
Conservative treatments such as rest, ice, and physical therapy sometimes are all that’s needed to recover from a rotator cuff injury. If pain still persists, your doctor might recommend a steroid injection into your shoulder joint, especially if the pain is interfering with your sleep, daily activities, or exercise.
If conservative treatment does not work, then surgery may be recommended. A common procedure is an arthroscopic tendon repair where surgeons insert a tiny camera and tools through small incisions to reattach the torn tendon to the bone. Sometimes a tear can be so massive that a shoulder replacement is necessary.
The good news is, as medicine advances and technology improves, treatment for rotator cuffs are highly successful. It is important to listen to your doctor and be compliant with the treatment plan they provide. It will make all the difference in your path to recovery!