The rotator cuff comprises the muscles, tendons, and shoulder capsule, which together hold the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) in the shoulder socket. As its name implies, the rotator cuff enables rotation of the shoulder.
Injuring a rotator cuff is quite easy – it can happen due to everything from repetitive-motion injury to falling the wrong way. Rotator cuff pain is not something to be ignored, and if it continues it should be examined and treated by an orthopedic physician.
Risk Factors of Rotator Cuff Injury
People who are 40 years of age and older have a greater chance of damage to the rotator cuff than do younger people. Athletes who continually use repetitive shoulder motions, such as baseball pitchers and tennis players, and professionals such as painters, carpenters, and even people who are at a computer all day and have poorly designed ergonomics at their desk, all have a heightened risk of injuring the rotator cuff.
Determining the Extent of Shoulder Damage
Many people have tendonitis of the shoulder (inflammation of the tendon), some people have tendonosis (deterioration of the collagen in the tendon), and some have complete tears in one or more tendons of the shoulder. Many times, wear-and-tear injuries first appear as an inflammatory response to irritated tendons – and through physical therapy and other measures, these patients can be returned to a pain-free lifestyle without requiring surgical treatment.
Your orthopedic physician may order X-rays to determine whether the rotator cuff pain is actually due to bone spurs or other issues in the shoulder. An MRI may also be used, and this type of scan uses magnets and radio waves (not radiation) to create images on a film. These images can provide a more in-depth representation of the shoulder and show the extent of the injuries.
Your physician may also order an ultrasound scan, which uses sound waves to produce a 3-D image of the internal structures of the body. Like an MRI, an ultrasound also uses no radiation. An ultrasound is excellent for scans of soft, connective tissues like muscles and tendons. This type of scan allows for dynamic, real-time visualization of the structures within the shoulder.
Treating Rotator Cuff Pain
Conservative treatments like the RICE method can help cure the shoulder pain if it is caused by inflammation. The RICE method is the acronym: rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the injured area.
Physical therapy is also widely used to help relieve rotator cuff pain. The shoulder is the most flexible of all the joints, and therefore its wide range of movement – and the tendency to use its full capacity in sports and other activities – can make it quite easy to injure.
There are also corticosteroid injections into the joint that can bring about temporary relief of rotator cuff pain. However, too many of these can cause the weakening and degeneration of the tendons, so your doctor will be conservative in the use of this treatment.
Orthopedic Doctors in the Tri-Cities, TN
If you have a stiff or painful shoulder, and making certain motions brings about a constant pain, it very likely could be rotator cuff pain. It is best to see an experienced orthopedic physician to have your shoulder quickly evaluated and treated, so you can enjoy a more pain-free lifestyle again.
If you are in the area of Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport, Tennessee, contact our team today at Watauga Orthopaedics by calling (423) 282-9011 or schedule an appointment online. Let us help you get back to the active life you love!