Rotator Cuff Tears: A Common Shoulder Injury

Posted on April 4th, 2012 by Bradley Dworkin

Your rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons in your shoulder and these muscles and their tendons stabilize the shoulder joint. This flexibility of your rotator cuff along with frequency of how often you use it means that it is very susceptible to a tear, resulting in a shoulder injury.

A rotator cuff tear is a very common type of shoulder injury, and is a leading cause of disability among adults. In 2008, close to 2 million people in the U.S. had enough pain or weakness in their rotator cuff to visit a doctor. With this type of shoulder injury, daily activities as simple as reaching for a box of cereal or brushing your hair may become painful and difficult to do.

Some common symptoms of a rotator cuff injury include:

  • Consistent pain in the shoulder joint area, especially noticeable if laying on the affected shoulder
  • Shoulder pain while lifting and lowering your arm
  • Weakness when lifting or rotating your arm
  • A crackling sensation occurs when moving your shoulder in specific positions

Shoulder joint injuries, or rotator cuff injuries, are caused by two main factors: Injury and Degeneration.

Injury: You can tear your rotator cuff if you have a sudden or awkward fall or lift something heavy with a jerking motion. This type of injury can be very common in the workplace where physical activity is the norm.

Degeneration: The tendons in the shoulder may also simply break down naturally over time with sustained use. Individuals who are over 40 are at a greater risk of this type of shoulder injury. If your job requires repetitive lifting or overhead activities, for example if you are a painter, carpenter, or electrician you would have a greater chance to sustain a rotator cuff tear. Anyone who plays or has played a sport are at a heightened risk also, especially baseball and tennis players.

Treatment: If the shoulder injury is not treated by a doctor or with shoulder exercises, the pain and weakness may become more noticeable even without use, especially if you sleep on the affected shoulder. However, there are several courses of action you can take to remedy your shoulder issues.

Pain and shoulder functionality improve in about half of patients who have received nonsurgical treatment. Unfortunately it is very unlikely that shoulder strength will improve without surgery.

Some common shoulder injury treatments include:

  • Limiting activities that could aggravate your rotator cuff can help. While this may include time off from work, the benefits could alleviate the pain.
  • Modify activities that have been leading to shoulder pain.
  • Shoulder exercises and physical therapy can reduce pain, restore movement and strengthen your shoulder. Most shoulder exercise programs work to increase flexibility and range of motion through various stretches.
  • Medications like ibuprofen and naproxen can reduce pain and swelling in your injured shoulder.
  • If the treatments above are not relieving your shoulder pain, local anesthetic and a cortisone shot may work as a last resort. Cortisone is a very effective anti-inflammatory medicine.
  • Finally, your doctor may recommend surgery if your pain does not improve with shoulder exercises or other nonsurgical methods. If pain has not subsided and your livelihood depends on the functionality of your shoulder joints, your doctor may not be as hesitant to recommend surgery. Surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff usually means reattaching the tendon to the bone on your upper arm.

The expense involved in treatment for rotator cuff injuries can be extensive, with potential surgery, physical therapy and medication. You may even miss work, which would mean lost wages and sick time. If you are suffering from a workplace rotator cuff injury or other shoulder injury in Chicago, you might want to consider consulting with a workers’ compensation attorney. They can discuss your benefit and compensation options.

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