Rotator Cuff Injury

Definition

Rotator cuff injury may include tendinitis, strain, or tear of the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and 4 separate tendons that fuse together to surround the shoulder joint.

Rotator Cuff Injury
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Causes

Causes of a rotator cuff injury include:

  • Direct blow to the shoulder area
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Chronic degenerative wear and tear on the tendons:
    • Arthritis may decrease the space for the tendons
    • Chronic instability of the humerus may traumatize the tendons
  • Repetitive overhead motion of the arm such as in:
    • Swimming
    • Baseball (mainly pitching)
    • Tennis

Risk Factors

Rotator cuff injury is more common in people 40 years and older. Other factors that increase your chance of a rotator cuff injury include:

  • Heavy lifting
  • Abnormalities of the shoulder, or in rotator cuff anatomy or function
  • Activities that involve repetitive overhead arm motion such as throwing or work related
  • Weakened shoulder muscles from inactivity or previous injury

Symptoms

Rotator cuff injury may cause:

  • Recurrent, constant pain, particularly when reaching overhead
  • Pain at night that prevents you from sleeping
  • Shoulder muscle weakness, especially when lifting the arm
  • Popping or clicking sounds when the shoulder is moved
  • Limited range of motion in the shoulder joint

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will carefully examine your shoulder. You will be asked to move your shoulder in several directions.

Tests may include:

  • Ultrasound
  • Arthrogram
  • MRI scan
  • Arthroscopy

Treatment

The treatment will depend on the extent of your injury, level of pain, and amount of immobility. The first step is usually a nonsurgical approach.

Nonsurgical

  • Rest helps the shoulder to heal. The doctor may recommend that you wear an arm sling to help rest the shoulder area.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help control the pain and/or inflammation.
  • Topical pain relievers, such as creams or patches, that are applied to the skin.
  • Corticosteroid injections to help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Injection of platelet rich plasma (PRP) to reduce bleeding.
  • Ice to help relieve pain and inflammation. Apply ice to shoulder area for 15 minutes, 3-4 times a day.
  • Physical therapy to help strengthen and increase motion in the shoulder area.

Surgical

Acromioplasty

This involves surgery on the bony structures that impinge the rotator cuff. Surgery can be arthroscopic or open.

Arthroscopy

A small instrument is inserted into the shoulder and used to remove bone spurs or degenerated portions of the rotator cuff tendons. Lesser tears can be repaired during arthroscopy as well.

Mini-Open Repair with Arthroscopy

This combines arthroscopy with an incision in the shoulder joint. Through the incision, the doctor can suture larger tears in the tendons or muscles.

Open Surgery

This is used to repair the injured tendon or muscle in more severe cases. A tissue transfer or a tendon graft can be done during surgery if the tear is too large to be closed together. In the most severe cases, a joint replacement may be necessary.

Recovery

Depending on the extent of your injury, full recovery can take anywhere from two to six months, and sometimes longer.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance a rotator cuff injury:

  • Avoid overhead repetitive motion
  • Limit duration of work that involves
    • Moving hands above shoulders
    • Using shoulder in extreme outward rotation
    • Vibrating tools
  • Avoid heavy lifting
  • Exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint

Revisions

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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