Shoulder pain is a common medical complaint that tends to become even more common as we get older. What’s more, compared to other types of chronic pain, research suggests shoulder pain has the greatest impact on quality of life, making it difficult to perform even simple daily tasks.
For many people, painful symptoms begin not “inside” the joint, but in the structures surrounding the shoulder joint — a collection of muscles and tendons known as the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff helps your shoulder move and keeps the joint stable and “in place.”
J. Michael Bennett, MD, specializes in diagnosing and treating rotator cuff injuries using non-invasive, minimally invasive, and traditional surgical approaches based on each patient’s unique needs. Understanding the common causes of rotator cuff injuries can aid in diagnosis. Here’s what to look for.
Causes of rotator cuff injuries
Rotator cuff tendons attach your arm muscles to the head of the upper arm bone or humerus. These tendons are tough and fibrous, but they can become damaged, irritated, and even torn, impairing shoulder function and causing painful symptoms.
Rotator cuff injuries typically involve complete or partial tears to the tendons that attach muscles to the top of your upper arm bone (humerus). There are two primary methods of injury:
- Traumatic injury, such as falling on your outstretched arm
- Degenerative changes coupled with wear and tear
Often, degenerative tears are preceded by a “weakening” or fraying of the tendon fibers that eventually leads to a more serious tear.
While pretty much anyone can have a rotator cuff injury, there are risk factors that make these injuries more likely, including:
- Older age
- Repetitive overhead activities
- Repetitive throwing or lifting
- Family history of shoulder problems
- Poor posture
- Bone spurs, bony overgrowths that rub on tendons
Using your arms a lot over your head, repetitive lifting, and participating in a sport that involves throwing, rowing, or swinging an object also increase your risk of rotator cuff injuries.
Treating rotator cuff tears
Many partial rotator cuff tears may be treated conservatively, with:
- An arm sling
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Steroid injections
- Physical therapy
- Activity modifications
Although resting your shoulder plays a role in healing, it’s important not to completely immobilize the joint since that can lead to tendon thickening and another painful problem called frozen shoulder. Physical therapy uses special exercises to promote healing without straining the joint.
Relieve your shoulder pain
Without medical care, rotator cuff injuries can rapidly progress to more serious problems, including a permanent loss of movement in your arm. If you have chronic or acute shoulder pain, don’t ignore it.
Fortunately, Dr. Bennett is skilled in advanced treatments to relieve shoulder pain and prevent it from recurring. If you have shoulder pain, call or book an appointment online today and learn how he can help.