What You Need to Know About Rotator Cuff Injuries

We don’t think about the stress we put on our bodies until something goes wrong. All of us, at some point, will face some level of nagging pain or even injury based on our lifestyles. Granted, there is a difference between a slight ache in the morning and a major issue that requires professional care. Our major joints are especially susceptible to wear and tear.

The shoulder, in particular, can be troublesome for everyone, from athletes to manual laborers and even people who just do repetitive motions at work. If you’ve ever suffered a shoulder injury, you know how long the process of determining what the injury is and recovering from it can be. Perhaps you’ve even heard the not so pleasant words, “You have a torn rotator cuff.” If you suspect you’ve injured your rotator cuff, you may be overwhelmed by all the information out there about what treatment will be like. Cutting edge techniques like arthroscopic rotator cuff repair can make all the difference if you need surgery to deal with your rotator cuff injury.

Here is what you need to know about rotator cuff injuries and treatment.

What is the rotator cuff?

There are a few parts to the shoulder as it’s a ball and socket joint. The rotator cuff is made of up four muscles and associated tendons that surround the shoulder joint. Essentially, it keeps your arm in the socket. When a tear occurs in one of these muscles, you may experience a dull ache that intensifies if you overextend yourself or if it stiffens throughout the night by sleeping on the afflicted side. Nearly anyone can experience a rotator cuff injury, but there are certainly some groups that are more susceptible than others.

What are common causes of injury?

Rotator cuff tears can be caused by many things. Over stretching or a rapid twist of the joint often causes the classic acute tear that is quite noticeable when it occurs and usually requires surgical treatment. Rotator cuff injuries are often associated with athletes, especially baseball pitchers, because of the extreme snapping motions and speeds that they are constantly putting their shoulder through. But, it’s not just pro athletes that suffer from these injuries. Sudden trauma such as trying to catch oneself during a fall or landing awkwardly can cause a tear in a rotator cuff muscle.

While we often associate rotator cuff injuries with falls or overextending ourselves by lifting something too heavy, the fact is most rotator cuff injuries are actually the result of wear and tear degeneration over the course of years. These injuries are generally seen in people over the age of 40, even with no prior history of significant shoulder injury.

How do you know you have a rotator cuff injury?

If it’s an acute injury that occurs due to a fall or other trauma, the sudden intense pain in your shoulder can’t be ignored. You may also experience a snapping sensation in your arm and immediate weakness in the upper arm.

Degenerative injuries tend to be painful when you lift and lower your arms. A dull aching pain, weakness, disturbed sleep, and a crackling sensation are all hallmarks of a degenerative rotator cuff tear.

What are the treatment options?

Minor tears may respond well to anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections, and physical therapy. But, often, surgery is required if it’s a major tear or it’s not healing on its own. Athletes especially often opt for surgery because the recovery time frame is preferable and they can’t compete without full use of the arm.

Arthroscopic rotator cuff repair surgery is a good option because it isn’t as traumatic of a procedure. Whereas in the past you might need the shoulder completely opened during surgery, which would require a longer recovery time, arthroscopic surgery is minimally invasive. A small camera is inserted through a small incision in the shoulder joint. The camera is then used to guide the surgical instruments. It’s often an outpatient procedure and allows for faster recovery, minimal scarring, and reduced risk of infection or stiffness.

Arthroscopic rotator cuff repair surgery also has a higher rate of success when it comes to healing. More traditional methods have failure rates exceeding 90%. Advanced techniques such as arthroscopic reinforcement grafting and superior capsular reconstruction are phenomenal options for the right patient.

It has even been found that arthroscopic superior capsule reconstruction can offer the opportunity to return to activities like sports and heavy lifting to patients who were previously told they had irreparable rotator cuff repairs. Patients who didn’t improve after initial conservative treatments regained range of motion and strength after undergoing arthroscopic ACR surgery.

That’s why it’s so important to find the best surgeon that employs the techniques that will match your needs.

Conclusion

When it comes to injuries, shoulder injuries can be some of the most complex and difficult to navigate. A rotator cuff injury can seriously limit you if you don’t seek the proper treatment. If you’ve been experiencing debilitating shoulder pain and you’re weighing your options, you need to speak with an expert in the field who has the background and understanding to successfully treat your condition. Dr. Agrawal is a nationally recognized orthopedic surgeon specializing in shoulder surgery that has treated patients from around the world for over a decade. Book an appointment online to schedule an appointment for a consultation. Dr. Agrawal and the team at Arizona Center for Hand to Shoulder Surgery are here to provide you with the expert care you need so you can get back to feeling your best.

 

Author
Vivek Agrawal, MD

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