A rotator cuff injury may cause a great deal of pain, but there are many ways – both conservative and surgical – your doctor can help you regain the use of your shoulder and arm.
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to the top of the shoulder and help it move. It works whenever you move your arm in activities such as throwing a baseball or football or pulling a chainsaw. Most of the time, rotator cuff injuries occur as a result of overuse, as when a baseball pitcher throws too many fast pitches without resting his arm. While they are common with athletes, older people also experience rotator cuff problems.
“You can sometimes prevent rotator cuff injuries by doing certain exercises,” says James M. Edwards, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Saint Francis Medical Center. “But overall, it is something that occurs over time if you do a lot of overhead activities.”
So how do you know when you need to see a doctor and when you just have a sore shoulder? When you have shoulder pain that lasts more than one or two weeks and starts to bother your sleep, it is time to seek help, says Edwards. “Pain that does not go away when you are inactive is cause for concern,” he says.
Many rotator cuff problems do not involve an actual tear, but rather a chronic issue such as bursitis or tendonitis. These problems usually can be treated with exercise therapy or injections with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. But when conservative treatments do not work, surgery may be necessary.
“Most rotator cuff procedures are performed arthroscopically,” says Edwards. “That means we insert a camera and tiny instruments through small incisions to perform repairs and removal of injured tissue. Sometimes, we remove a bone spur or calcium deposit. This minimally invasive surgery is a better option for patients than open surgery because it involves less blood loss and a quicker recovery. Recovery may take some time, but exercises can help you come close to your previous level of activity.”
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