If you think rotator cuff tears only happen to professional athletes, think again. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, about 2 million people suffer rotator cuff tears each year, making it one of the most common types of shoulder injuries. Made up of an interconnected “network” of muscles and tendons, your rotator cuff helps your shoulder function the way it’s supposed to, and it also provides your shoulder joint with the stability it needs to reach, pivot, lift and “stay put” during movements, especially during reaching and lifting.
How the rotator cuff gets injured
Most rotator cuff tears occur as a result of direct impacts from falls, especially when you fall on your outstretched arm. Think about it: When you fall, it’s only natural to extend your arm to brace your body from the impact. That means all that force goes into your arm and right up to your shoulder joint, where it can cause the tendons in the cuff to tear away from the bone in your upper arm (called the humerus).
Other times, the cuff can become damaged over time as a result of repeated stress and strain on the tendons and the joint itself. As the tendon becomes worn, tiny tears can form, resulting in a “fraying” effect that makes the tendon weaker and more prone to damage. Weaker, damaged tendons are more likely to become completely or partially torn, even from less significant impacts and activities. Swinging a golf club or tennis racket, throwing or hitting a ball, or even lifting a heavy object — any of these actions can cause a tear when the tendons are already weakened.
And finally, some tears can be caused by bone spurs, small overgrowths of bone that form along the shoulder joint. These growths form hard bumps that can irritate and damage tendons, causing weak areas that are also more prone to tears.
Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear
Although the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear can vary depending on whether it’s a full or partial tear (and other factors), many people who have a rotator cuff injury experience at least some of these symptoms:
- Pain when you raise your arm over your head or lower your arm from a raised position
- Weakness when you lift your arm or try to rotate it
- Difficulty or pain lifting objects, especially lifting them over your head or reaching for overhead objects
- Pain when you lean on or rest on your arm, including when you’re lying in bed on your side
- A “creaking,” “clicking” or “sticking” sensation when you move your arm or shoulder
The level of pain you experience can also vary depending on how the tear occurred. For instance, most people who tear their rotator cuff as the result of a fall have severe shoulder pain immediately after the tear occurs, while gradual wearing and weakening of the tendon may cause less severe pain over a longer period of time. The bottom line: Any type of pain or other unusual symptom is a sign something’s not right with your shoulder. Scheduling an office visit with Dr. Abeles is the best way to make sure you get the treatment you need to relieve pain and other symptoms, and to prevent your shoulder injury from becoming worse.
Get help for your shoulder pain
Even though rotator cuff tears are a relatively common type of shoulder injury, especially among very active people and as we get older, they’re not the only injury that can cause shoulder pain. During your office visit, Dr. Abeles will perform a comprehensive evaluation of your shoulder and an in-depth review of your symptoms, medical history and lifestyle to ensure you get the best and most appropriate care for your needs. If you’re having shoulder pain, feeling better begins with an office visit to learn what’s causing it. To learn more about the treatment options that can help you put an end to your painful shoulder symptoms, book an appointment online today.