The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and four muscles namely supraspinatus, infraspinatus, tere minor, and subscapularis; that help stabilize the shoulder. The muscles and tendons aid in the shoulder movement, so every time you move your shoulder, it means that you are using your rotator cuff to stabilize and help move the joint.
Injuries are the most common reason for rotator cuff pain. It lies in two categories: impingement and tear.
- Impingement occurs when a rotator cuff muscle swells and cramps the space between the arm and shoulder bones, which causes a pinching sensation. Muscle strain, other overuse injuries, and bone spurs are the common causes of inflammation.
- Tear is a less common injury that occurs when a rotator cuff muscle or tendon is torn. This injury does not require surgery though it typically causes intense and immediate pain. Common causes of rotator cuff tears are incidents such as fall, a car accident, or another sudden injury.
Acute injuries usually occur from one particular incident which can be by lifting an object that is too heavy, falling, or having the shoulder forces into an awkward position.
Symptoms and Risk Factors of Rotator Cuff Injury
Not all rotator cuff injuries cause pain. Some are the result of degenerative conditions which means that the rotator cuff could be damaged for months or years before symptoms start to appear. Degenerative injuries are due to long-term overuse. People who are most at risk are those whose jobs require repetitive liftings such as carpenters and painters, athletes particularly tennis players, rowers, wrestlers, and baseball players, and people whose age is above 40. Health professionals noted that rotator cuff tear increases as we age and the wear on our bodies accumulates.
Below are some of the symptoms that you can observe in a person with a rotator cuff injury. If these symptoms are appearing for longer than a week, or if your arm/s lose its function, immediately see your doctor.
- Trouble reaching behind the back.
- Pain or tenderness when reaching overhead.
- Difficulty sleeping on the affected shoulder.
- Pain in the shoulder, especially at night.
- Difficulty achieving full range of shoulder motion.
- Progressive weakness of the shoulder.
Treatment for Rotator Cuff Injuries
Doctors use medical history, a physical examination, and imaging scans to diagnose injuries in your rotator cuffs. They may ask about physical activities at the workplace to determine whether a patient has an increased risk for a degenerative condition. Doctors will also test the arm’s strength and range of motion as well as rule out similar conditions, such as a pinched nerve or arthritis.
Doctors may want to find out if there are bone spurs. Bone spurs are the small bone growths that can rub against the rotator cuff tendon and cause pain and inflammation. To know whether bone spurs exist or not, doctors use imaging scans such as x-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or ultrasound. However, MRI and ultrasound are specifically used to examine soft tissues, such as muscles and tendons, to better identify tears.
The equipment or scanning tools will also show how large and severe the rotator cuff tears have become.
Treatment for rotator cuff pain range from resting the affected arm to surgery. Usually, RICE (stands for rest, ice, compress, and elevate) therapy is very advisable after an injury to reduce pain and swelling.
Statistically, nonsurgical treatment can improve symptoms in about 50 percent of people with the injury. Some other nonsurgical treatments are listed below.
- Resting the affected arm and wearing a sling to isolate arm movements.
- Applying hot or cold packs to the affected shoulder to lessen the inflammation.
- Injecting the affected area with cortisone, a steroid that helps to reduce inflammation.
- OTC (over-the-counter) anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
- Exercises to restore strength and range of motion
Once the swelling is gone and movements do not cause any pain on your previously affected arm, certain exercise can help you heal and prevent issues such as frozen shoulder–a condition that limits the range of motion in your shoulder–or loss of range of motion.
Rotator Cuff Exercises
Here are some rotator cuff exercises that you can do:
Equipment needs: doorway
- Stand in an open doorway and spread your arms out to each side.
- Grip the doorway’s side with each hand at or below shoulder height and lean forward through it until you feel a slight stretch.
- Keep your back straight as you lean and shift your weight onto your toes. You should feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder. Make sure that you do not overstretch.
Side-Lying External Rotation
Equipment needs: light dumbbells
- Lie down on the opposite side of your injured arm.
- Bend the elbow of your injured arm to 90 degrees then rest the elbow on your side. Your forearm should rest across your abdomen.
- Hold a light dumbbell in the injured side’s hand and while you keep the elbow against your side, slowly raise the dumbbell toward the ceiling. If you feel any strain, stop rotating your arm.
- Hold the dumbbell up for a few seconds before returning your arm down to the starting position.
- Do 3 sets of 10 up to 3 times per day. Then, if a set of 10 becomes easy, increase the repetition to 20.
Lawn Mower Pull
Equipment needs: resistance band
- Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart. Place one end of a resistance band under the foot opposite the injured arm. Hold the other end with the injured arm, so the band goes diagonally across your body.
- Keep your other hand on your hip and make sure that your knees won’t lock as you bend slightly at the waist so the hand holding the band is parallel to the opposite knee.
- As if starting a lawnmower in slow motion, straighten upright while pulling your elbow across the body to the outside ribs. Keep your shoulders relaxed and squeeze your shoulder blades together as you stand.
- Repeat 3 sets of 10.
The above-mentioned exercises can also strengthen your rotator cuffs to prevent injury on the shoulder area.