A rotator cuff injury may include tendinitis, strain, or tear of the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and four separate tendons that fuse together to surround the shoulder joint.
Causes of a rotator cuff injury include:
Direct blow to the shoulder area
Falling on an outstretched arm
Chronic degenerative wear and tear on the tendons:
Arthritis may decrease the space for the tendons
Chronic instability of the humerus may traumatize the tendons
Repetitive overhead motion of the arm such as in:
Baseball (mainly pitching)
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Risk factors for a rotator cuff injury include:
Age: 40 or older
Abnormalities of the shoulder in rotator cuff anatomy or function
Activities that involve repetitive overhead arm motion such as throwing or work-related
Weakened shoulder muscles from inactivity or previous injury
Recurrent, constant pain, particularly when reaching overhead
Pain at night that prevents you from sleeping
Shoulder muscle weakness, especially when lifting the arm
Popping or clicking sounds when the shoulder is moved
Limited range of motion in the shoulder joint
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will carefully examine your shoulder. You will be asked to move your shoulder in several directions.
Tests may include:
The normal course of a POST-SURGICAL rotator cuff protocol has been described as having five stages:Stage 1: Immobilization
There is a mandatory period of rest for the arm following a rotator cuff surgery. The tendons have been repaired but need to wait through the biological healing phase in order to be able to accept the strain of moving the arm. This period may last 4-6 weeks and may be intermittent with the therapist being able to do slight motions to the arm to keep the joint from getting stiff.
Stage 2: Passive motion
During and after the immobilization phase, you’ll begin performing passive motion exercises. At first, the therapist will provide the muscle to move the arm, but over time, you’ll be educated in use of pulleys, stretch straps and table stretches to allow the joint to move while keeping the muscles fully relaxed.
Stage 3: Active-Assisted motion
Once the shoulder has achieved full expected passive motion, and with the permission of the surgeon, your therapist will begin active-assisted motion. This type of exercise uses less than 100% of the surgical shoulder’s power to move the arm. The therapist may instruct you in pendulum exercises that employ gravity and momentum. Self-ranging exercises use the uninvolved arm to move the involved arm, either against the weight of gravity or lying down so that the weight of gravity is minimalized. The surgical arm’s responsibility will slowly increase up to 100% of the weight of the arm. Then, you’ll be ready for active motion.
Stage 4: Active motion
The active motion phase begins when the arm is able to carry its own weight against gravity but is not yet ready to lift, push or pull objects. During this phase, your therapist will demonstrate safe motion patterns of the shoulder and shoulder blade. They will monitor the coordination of movement between the muscles to check for specific weakness that could put strain on the repair. Once you can achieve full expected active range of motion against the weight of gravity, and with your physician’s approval, you’ll be ready to add weight.
Stage 5: Strengthening
The strengthening program may start out slowly. Be patient! The muscles are relearning how to work together so inflammation of the tendons and bursae are still a risk in this phase. Your therapist will recommend exercises that you can do at home in order to improve the arm’s tolerance for strength and to reduce the strain on the arm when you come into therapy. Over time, the therapist will demonstrate ways that you can safely use the arm for pushing up from a chair, pulling a door open, reaching into a cabinet and other activities of daily living.
NON-SURGICAL rotator cuff tear
In the shoulder that does not require surgery it is important to determine the cause of the pain and inflammation and work to reduce both. The therapist will likely recommend home modality use to reduce symptoms and the physician may recommend oral or injectable anti-inflammatory medications. Once the arm has responded well to these measures, it is time to begin lightly strengthening the uninvolved muscles so they can support the injured ones. Shoulder blade mobility can play a large role in reducing the pinch of tendons between the acromion (front part of the shoulder blade) and the top of the humerus (the long arm bone). By improving the mechanics of motion between the shoulder blade and the humerus, the therapist can help you reduce pain, inflammation, and the potential for more tearing.
To reduce your chances of getting a rotator cuff injury:
Avoid overhead repetitive motion
Limit duration of work that involves
Moving hands above shoulders
Using shoulder in extreme outward rotation
Avoid heavy lifting
Exercise regularly to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint
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American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
The University of British Columbia Department of Orthopaedics
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