Do you experience constant shoulder pain? You may be suffering from a rotator
cuff injury. “Shoulder pain is quite common, but many people don’t
realize that it may actually be caused by injured muscles or tendons,” says
Christopher Walter, DO, an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine at
St. Joseph Health Medical Group.
The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in your body. The rotator
cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that cluster together around
the shoulder joint, responsible for keeping your shoulder stable in its
socket and enabling a range of movements. The rotator cuff allows your
shoulder to rotate when you swing your arm up, down, backwards, forwards
and around. But sometimes, too much stress on this area can cause injury.
Rotator cuff injuries are usually identified by a dull ache in the shoulder
that worsens when you sleep on it. It’s a pain resulting from the
partial tearing or swelling of muscles or tendons in that area. “These
types of injuries can make simple tasks that involve lifting your arms
above your head, such as reaching for an item off of a high shelf or brushing
your hair or teeth, very difficult,” Dr. Walter notes.
Most rotator cuff injuries happen over a period of time, although some
may happen suddenly. The most common causes of sudden injury are falling
on your shoulder, using your arm to break a fall or lifting heavy weights.
People who play tennis, pitch baseballs, or participate in any sport or
activity that involves constant shoulder movement, are also more susceptible
to developing rotator cuff injury over time. Aside from constant, dull
pain, rotator cuff injuries can also be identified by a weakness and tenderness
in the shoulder, along with a snapping or crackling sound when you move your arm.
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, see your doctor.
A series of tests such as x-rays and MRI’s may be used to diagnose
the injury, and you may be referred to an orthopedic surgeon to discuss
“The good news is that most of these types of shoulder injuries,
with a bit of physical therapy and rest, can heal on their own,”
says Dr. Walter. “But, if one of the tendons is torn, then you may
Dr. Walter employs a less invasive arthroscopic surgery approach to treating
shoulder problems. Arthroscopic surgery involves the use of miniature
surgical tools, including a small camera called an arthroscope, that are
inserted into the shoulder through tiny incisions in the skin. The camera
displays pictures on a television screen, allowing the surgeon to guide
the special tools to the tear, and repair it. “Because the incisions
are so small, scarring is minimal and healing is faster than with open
surgery. The procedure is also less painful,” Dr. Walter says.
“The best way to avoid rotator cuff injury is to keep your shoulder
muscles strong,” says Dr. Walter. There are many simple exercises
you can do at home to help strengthen shoulder muscles and reduce the
risk of injury, including shoulder stretches, dumbbell curls, resistance
bands, and rotations. Ask your doctor for recommendations on what exercises
might be most suitable for you.
Have you got any at-home shoulder exercise tips? Share them in the comments below.