What to Do for a Rotator Cuff Injury
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

What to Do for a Rotator Cuff Injury

Ever experience a twinge of pain in your shoulder? Or maybe you feel grinding or crackling when you move your shoulder. There’s a good chance you may be dealing with a rotator cuff injury. And if that’s the case, you’re in good company.

More than 2 million Americans experience some type of rotator cuff problem every year. From professional athletes to never-stepped-foot-in-a-gym Joes and Janes, rotator cuff injuries affect people of all ages and to varying degrees. In fact, while some people find the injury incredibly painful—especially if it’s brought on by accident or trauma, others may experience minimal to no pain at all.

To better understand these types of injuries, let’s start with the basics.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint that plays a crucial role in both stabilizing and mobilizing the shoulder. However, repetitive movements, sudden impacts, or simply aging can lead to wear and tear on muscles and tendons, resulting in injury.

Common symptoms include:

Pain: A persistent ache or sharp pain in the shoulder, especially when reaching overhead or lifting objects.

Weakness: Difficulty lifting or carrying objects, particularly overhead, due to weakness in the affected shoulder.

Limited Range of Motion: Trouble moving your shoulder in certain directions, accompanied by stiffness or tightness.

Clicking or Popping Sensation: Audible or palpable sensations of clicking, popping, or grinding in the shoulder joint during movement.

Night Pain: Discomfort or pain that worsens at night, particularly when lying on the affected shoulder.

If you’re dealing with any of these symptoms, there are a few things you can try on your own over the course of a few weeks before seeing a doctor.

Rest: Give your shoulder a break from activities that exacerbate pain or discomfort, and avoid overexertion.

Ice and Heat Therapy: Apply ice to reduce inflammation and numb pain, followed by heat packs or warm compresses to promote blood flow and relaxation.

Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate pain and inflammation.

If you’re still experiencing pain, schedule an appointment with an orthopedist for an assessment and to discuss additional treatment options. These may include:

Physical Therapy: to strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint and improve flexibility and range of motion.

Non-surgical Interventions: ultrasound therapy, electrical stimulation, or therapeutic massage may work to reduce pain and promote tissue healing.

Injections: corticosteroid injections may be recommended to provide short-term relief of pain and inflammation.

Surgery: If other approaches don’t bring relief, surgery may be necessary to repair a damaged rotator cuff.

No matter the approach taken, recovering from a rotator cuff injury takes time and patience. It’s critically important to not rush the healing process. Listening to your body and heeding its call to slow down if needed, as well as following your doctor’s recommendations, can work to minimize the impact of your injury and help ensure shoulder health in the long term.

Are you at risk of a rotator cuff injury?

Many jobs and activities that involve repetitive shoulder motions, overhead movements, or sudden impacts commonly contribute to rotator cuff injuries.

Here’s a look at what may be putting you at risk:

Manual Labor: Jobs that require repetitive lifting, pushing, or pulling heavy objects, such as:

construction

carpentry

painting

landscaping

warehouse jobs

hairdressing

computer work

assembly line

mechanics

Sports: Repetitive overhead motions and potential for direct trauma of certain sports and recreational activities may put you at a higher risk of rotator cuff injury, including:

baseball

softball

tennis

swimming

golf

pickleball

weightlifting

rowing

basketball

hockey

lacrosse

volleyball

 

Matt Nofziger, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center Orthopedics

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