Your shoulder is one of the largest, most complex joints in your body. It involves three bones held securely in place by a group of muscles and tendons. Together, they make your rotator cuff, which keeps your upper arm bone in your shoulder socket and gives you a wide range of movement, including:
- Rotating and moving the upper arm
- Reaching behind your back
- Bearing overhead weight
While your shoulder is incredibly strong and flexible, the very nature of its design leaves it vulnerable to injury, especially to the rotator cuff.
As an experienced orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Michael Klassen knows firsthand how rotator cuff injuries can derail your daily life. Fortunately, if you tear your rotator cuff, Dr. Klassen can use surgical procedures to repair the damage and ease your symptoms, ranging from traditional approaches to minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques.
In this blog, Dr. Klassen sheds light on rotator cuff injuries, how to spot the signs of an issue, and what you can do if you detect a problem.
Understanding rotator cuff injuries
Before getting into the signs of a rotator cuff injury, it helps to discuss three specific injuries: tendonitis, bursitis, and tears. These injuries become increasingly more common with age.
Tendonitis develops in response to the overuse of the rotator cuff. That’s because repetitive motions (like painting or swinging a tennis racket) cause inflammation in the muscles and tendons of your rotator cuff.
Bursitis is also due to inflammation. However, in this rotator cuff injury, the fluid-filled cushions — or bursae — in between your bone and rotator cuff tendons become inflamed.
Rotator cuff tears can occur for several reasons, including overuse or injury, like a fall or car accident. When the rotator cuff stretches too much and tears, it causes immediate and intense pain. Research shows that these tears are very common, impacting 64% of people with shoulder pain.
The same study also notes that 39% of participants had no shoulder pain during the study, but they still showed some degree of strain or tearing in their rotator cuff.
Spotting a rotator cuff injury
Rotator cuff problems have different symptoms depending on your specific injury. It’s possible to experience symptoms that start suddenly (such as with an acute injury) or problems that develop slowly and worsen over time.
Signs of a rotator cuff injury could include:
- Having pain when reaching overhead
- Noticing weakness in your shoulder
- Experiencing discomfort, especially at night
- Being unable to sleep on your affected shoulder
- Losing full range of motion in your shoulder
- Avoiding certain movements or activities because of pain
- Being unable to fully reach behind your back
When you have an acute injury, like a rotator cuff tear, it’s also common to experience pain that starts in the front of your shoulder and radiates down through your arm. It’s even possible to hear or feel a snapping sensation in addition to weakness in your arm.
Finding relief for rotator cuff injuries
Rotator cuff tears cause more than pain; they can make it difficult or impossible to perform the simplest of daily tasks — like brushing your hair, getting dressed, and carrying your groceries.
While rotator cuff injuries don’t always require surgery, if you have chronic shoulder pain caused by a tear, it could provide the best solution. Orthopedic surgery could also be the best treatment option if you:
- Have severe pain
- Don’t respond to conservative treatments
- Are an athlete
- Use your arms or shoulders a lot for work
- Have symptoms impacting your quality of life
If you have shoulder pain or weakness, we can help. Learn more about the benefits of orthopedic surgery for rotator cuff tears by calling today.