The “Rotator Cuff” is a group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint to support it through its full range of motion. These complex structures can be damaged through repetitive use. Rotator cuff injuries can also be the result of falling, lifting improperly, and repetitive arm activities such as those in sports like tennis, baseball, or swimming. Tears to the rotator cuff are most common in middle-aged adults and in active athletes. Rotator cuff injuries make up more than six million shoulder injuries that are diagnosed in the United States annually. A rotator cuff tear can cause a dull ache or a sharp pain deep within the shoulder. This type of pain often worsens when you try to sleep on the affected side.
Evidence of a rotator cuff tear cannot be seen in X-rays and therefore is best examined through Magnetic Resonance Imaging. An MRI scan is the most reliable way to identify injuries to the shoulder such as rotator cuff tears. There are two different types of rotator cuff tears: acute and chronic.
Acute – Symptoms of an acute rotator cuff tear can come without warning and are accompanied by a tearing sensation. This is followed by severe pain that shoots from the upper shoulder down the arm toward the elbow. Decreased range of motion of the shoulder is evident due to pain and muscle spasms.
Chronic – This is a gradual weakness in the injured shoulder along with decreased ability to move. Pain will worsen at night and may affect sleep. The affected person is unable to use the injured arm for activities that entail lifting the arm as high as or higher than the shoulder level to the front or side.
In many cases, physical therapy, along with medication, can relieve the pain of a rotator cuff injury without the need for surgery. If this does not improve the injury, treatment for tears will require individualized attention based on the degree of the tear, the location, your age, and activity level.
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