Rotator cuff injuries are a common problem that can affect just about anyone. This is because rotator cuff injuries can be the result of a variety of issues including a single traumatic event such as a fall, the over-use of the joint through athletic or occupational activity, or simply the natural weakening and deterioration that occurs over time. Because of this, these types of injuries are more likely to occur in individuals who participate in sports such as baseball or swimming that involve a lot of arm motion, or who hold jobs that put a lot of strain on the arms and shoulders or involve a lot of repetitive movement, such as cashiers or construction workers. Additionally, these injuries become more common in people over the age of 40 as the muscles in the joint deteriorate through normal wear and tear.
The common symptoms of rotator cuff injuries include:
- Pain in the shoulder joint
- Weakness in the arm and shoulder
- Decreased range of motion
- A crackling sensation in the shoulder.
Most, though not all, rotator cuff injuries are accompanied by pain in the affected shoulder joint. This generally increases during rest or when making certain motions with the arm such as rotating or lifting it. In addition, most people experience weakness in the affected arm or shoulder and a decreased range of motion over time, especially when trying to lift the arm over the head. Rotator cuff injuries can also be identified by a crackling or grinding sensation when moving the arm, especially when rotating it or reaching overhead or behind the back.
The most common treatment for rotator cuff injuries involves physical therapy, NSAIDs, and cortisone shots. This is due to the fact that rotator cuff surgery can be incredibly painful to recover from and is not always necessary. Non-invasive treatments are usually prescribed for those with minor or non-degenerative tears or with bursitis (inflamed fluid sacks in the shoulder) or impinged shoulder joints (where the cartilage has worn down and the bones of the joint rub together).
Surgery may be necessary if the tear or inflammation is too great or does not respond to non-invasive methods. The most common approach is to perform rotator cuff arthoscopic surgery. Arthroscopic surgery allows the doctor to make a small incision and perform either exploratory or corrective surgery through the use of a small camera (arthroscope) and fine tools.
The smaller incision allows for faster, less difficult recovery. Open surgery – where a traditional cut is made, and the joint is fully exposed – may be deemed necessary if the doctor determines that the injury is too great or complicated to treat through arthroscopic surgery. It usually takes between 4 – 6 weeks post-surgery for the patient to begin recovering some movement in the shoulder and return to normal activities. It can take as long as 4 months, though, for the post-surgery pain to significantly subside.