Rotator Cuff Injuries

What is a Rotator Cuff Injury?

The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles that surround the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff keeps the head of the upper arm bone firmly in the socket of the shoulder.

Rotator cuff injuries can be the result of a sudden event, or gradual wear and tear over time. They are common and the likelihood of a rotator cuff injury increases with age. A rotator cuff may tear partially or fully. In partial thickness tears, the tendon is not completely severed from the shoulder. With a full-thickness tear, the tendon separates completely from the bone and there is a hole or rip in the tendon.

What are the Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injuries?

While some rotator cuff injuries don’t cause pain, other injuries may result the following symptoms:

  • Pain that is experienced as a dull ache deep in the shoulder
  • Recurrent pain, exacerbated with certain activities
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Difficulty doing certain activities, such as combing hair or reaching behind the back
  • Arm weakness
  • Limited ability to move the arm
  • Grating or cracking sounds during movement of the arm

What Causes Rotator Cuff Injuries?

Rotator cuff injuries are usually caused by the progressive wear and tear of the tendon tissue over time. Overuse, such as repetitive overhead activity or prolonged bouts of heavy lifting (common in certain occupations) can damage or irritate the tendon, and may result in earlier onset of injury. Degenerative tears can also be caused by bone spurs and decreased blood flow. In other instances, the rotator cuff can be injured in a single incident, such as in a fall.

Risk factors include:

  • Age – rotator cuff injuries are most common in those over 60
  • Occupation – jobs that require repeated overhead reaching may damage the rotator cuff over time
  • Sports
  • Family history

How are Rotator Cuff Injuries Diagnosed?

Rotator cuff injuries are diagnosed with a variety of techniques, including:

  • Physical exams
  • X-rays – to rule out other potential causes for pain (e.g. bone spurs or arthritis)
  • Ultrasound – to assess the structure of the shoulder during movement, and provide a comparison between the affected and health shoulder
  • MRI – to provide detailed images of the structures of the shoulder

What is the Treatment for a Rotator Cuff Injury?

Without proper treatment, a rotator cuff injury could lead to weakness or loss of motion of the shoulder joint. Treatment includes:

  • Lifestyle changes such as taking over-the-counter pain medications, icing, and limiting overhead activity and other painful movements
  • Physical therapy (both as an initial treatment and after a surgery)
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Injections (which provide temporary relief, but can also weaken the tendon and reduce the chance of success of shoulder surgery)
  • Surgery

There are several different types of surgeries that may be used to repair rotator cuff injuries, such as:

  • Arthroscopic tendon repair
  • Open tendon repair
  • Tendon transfer
  • Shoulder replacement

A rotator cuff injury can interfere with an individual’s ability to work or carry out daily tasks. If you have been diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury and are worried that it may be impeding your ability to continue to safely practice on patients, you should speak with an experienced disability insurance attorney.

These posts are for informative purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with and diagnosis by a medical professional. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above and have yet to consult with a doctor, do not use this resource to self-diagnose. Please contact your doctor immediately and schedule an appointment to be evaluated for your symptoms.


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