Why Are Rotator Cuff Injuries so Common?

You’ve been diagnosed with a rotator cuff injury. You know your shoulder hurts, but what is the rotator cuff, anyway? 

Your shoulder has muscles and tendons that make up your rotator cuff. The tendons are tough cords of tissue that connect the muscles around your shoulder to the bone in your upper arm, the humerus. The four tendons, along with your muscles, facilitate the movement of your shoulder, helping your arm rotate around in its socket. 

The board-certified orthopedic surgeons at San Diego Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center treat patients with rotator cuff injury every day. Their expert care helps you return to normal activities with a new appreciation of the work your shoulder does. 

Symptoms of rotator cuff injury

If you have a rotator cuff injury, you’re likely experiencing pain in your shoulder and the upper part of your arm. It may be hard for you to reach upward or outward because of pain or weakness. If you’re a side sleeper, you may find it impossible to sleep on your side; the pain becomes worse when your bodyweight presses on your shoulder. 

Types of rotator cuff injuries

If a tendon rubs against bone or ligaments and causes pain, you have a condition called impingement. Impingement can result in tendinitis, or inflammation of a tendon. It can also cause shoulder bursitis, in which the bursa, a sac filled with fluid that protects the cuff, becomes irritated. 

You could also have a partial tear of the tendon in which it’s damaged but not completely torn. The most severe rotator cuff injury is a complete tear of a tendon that separates it from the bone. 

Why are rotator cuff injuries so common? 

The four tendons that make up your rotator cuff operate in a limited space. When you lift your shoulder to the top of its range of motion, the tendons move with it. If you frequently place your arms overhead during sports or for your job, you’re constantly narrowing the space where the tendons reside, which can eventually produce injury. 

Sometimes the tendons can hit a bony spot above them or a ligament at the front of your shoulder. The movement causes friction that can result in irritating the rotator cuff, causing pain. 

If you play sports that require repetitive motion of your shoulder such as tennis or baseball, it’s fairly easy to see why you’re more at risk for this injury. Serving or throwing balls that can reach 90 mph puts a huge amount of force on your shoulder. But the condition is also common in those with certain jobs that require repetitive overhead motions: painters, carpenters, and auto mechanics, for instance. 

Age also plays a role. More wear and tear on your shoulder occurs as you age. If a tendon is already weak because of age or repetitive motion, any quick movement applying force to the shoulder, such as pulling a lawnmower cord, can result in a tear. If you have arthritis and often use your arms to push yourself out of a chair, the rotator cuff tendons can weaken and tear because they’re not built to supply that kind of support to your body.    

Expert care for rotator cuff injuries

Your physician at San Diego Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center reviews your medical history, performs a thorough exam, and conducts diagnostic tests to determine the extent of your rotator cuff injury. If the cuff isn’t completely torn, conservative treatments such as rest, ice, heat, gentle stretching, and physical therapy are effective. If you have a significant tear, your doctor may advise rotator cuff repair surgery, explaining the process and answering all of your questions. 

If you have a rotator cuff injury or other musculoskeletal need, call or book an appointment online with San Diego Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center.

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