Rotator cuff injury is a soft tissue injury involving the rotator cuff, the bundle of muscles and tendons in the shoulder area. The rotator cuff is responsible for the containment of the bone of the upper arm on the shoulder blade, which keeps the ball on the socket most of the time.
The shoulder joint is one of the joints in the body that is able to support several range of motion so without the rotator cuff, the ball (head of the humerus) may just slip off the socket (shoulder blade) leading to shoulder joint dislocation. The rotator cuff gives the shoulder joint the greatest range of motion compared to other joints in the body.
When the rotator cuff is injured, the tear in the bundle of muscles and tendons leads to difficulty in employing range of motion in the shoulder joint. More severe injuries may lead to shoulder dislocation as well. Rotator cuff injury may involve tendinitis, bursitis or a strain and tear on the muscle bundle.
Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injury
Rotator cuff injury may lead to the following manifestations:
- Pain in the shoulder joint aggravated by overhead motions of the arm, lifting, reaching, pulling objects and sleeping on the affected side of the arm.
- Tenderness on the shoulder joint and surrounding areas
- Reduced range of motion of the shoulders
- Shoulder weakness
- Conscious limitation of shoulder movement to prevent pain
Shoulder weakness and reduced range of motion are commonly seen in severe injuries wherein large tears develop on the rotator cuff.
Causes of Rotator Cuff Injury
Damage to the rotator cuff can be caused by the following conditions:
- Poor posture
A slouched posture can result in the forward position of the neck and shoulders. This position can lead to pinching of the muscles and tendons on the rotator cuff.
Aging produces a normal wear and tear on the rotator cuff. Those aged 40 years and above are more at risk for rotator cuff injury because of the breakdown in the collagen or the fibrous protein that makes up the muscles and tendons.
- Repetitive stress
The repetitive movement in the shoulder joint such as an overhead movement can cause tearing on the rotator cuff leading to inflammation and pain. Athletes that employ frequent overhead movement of the arms such as tennis players, baseball players, swimmers and the like are more at risk for rotator cuff injury.
- Direct physical trauma
Falling injuries straight to the arms and shoulder area can lead to damage to the rotator cuff.
Treatment for Rotator Cuff Injury
Rotator cuff injury is usually self-limiting and can be managed at home. Nevertheless, if you feel severe shoulder pain, chronic pain (such as lasting for more than a week) and if weakness of the arms becomes more intense, medical care should be sought immediately because it may be a sign of severe rotator cuff injury and even dislocation of the shoulder joint as a result of poor rotator cuff support.
Common managements include shoulder immobilization, physical therapy, ice compress, rest and use of pain medications. For more severe injuries, steroid injections may be used to relieve severe pain. Surgery can also be employed for the presence of a large tear or dislocation.
Rotator cuff injury is commonly a result of poor ergonomics so preventive measures are geared towards using the arms and shoulders appropriately to prevent the strain on the rotator cuff.