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Complete Guide to Rotator Cuff Injuries

What is the Rotator Cuff?

A rotator cuff comprises a couple of muscles and tendons on the shoulder. They naturally aid the movement of the arms from the body. The cuff ensures that the upper arm bone ball is ideally kept in the shoulder’s blade socket. 

Typically, the human shoulder has four (4) rotator cuff muscles acting as supports that stabilize the arm’s ball in the socket of its blade. These muscles include:

  1. the supraspinatus
  2. the infraspinatus
  3. the teres minor and
  4. the subscapularis

Thus, a rotator cuff tear is an injury that happens to one or more of the muscles or tendons on the shoulder. It is equally known as a complete tear or a full-thickness.

The types of rotator cuff tears include partial and complete.

  • Partial:  This is where there is a partial injury or tear, but the tendon is still attached to the arm bone.
  • Complete:  A complete injury or tear occurs, and the tendons get separated from the bone, and there is a hole in the tendon.

Usually, the rotator cuff tear is a common injury. It occurs mainly in sports such as tennis, baseball. It also happens in cleaning and painting jobs where the arm has to move around in a particular manner over a period. However, it can also occur should someone take a fall on the arm or perhaps lift a heavy item. 

To check if you have a rotator cuff tear, your doctor will carry out a physical examination of your shoulder. In the course of this check, the range of your motion and muscle strength will also be examined, as they ascertain which of the exact movements hurts your shoulder.

Causes of Rotator Cuff Injuries?

A couple of research has been consulted to get what the actual cause of Rotator Cuff Injury is. Therefore, it has been obtained that a combination of factors may lead to this difficulty.

First, it has been established that Rotator Cuff Injuries occur when there is an accident—such as a fall. This could cause a broken collarbone and even a dislocated shoulder which may tear off the cuff. 

More frequently, however, rotator cuff tears happen due to a gradual wearing away of the tendons with age, or tears degenerately as it is being used. Degenerative tears in this regard may be caused as a result of:

  • Job or occupation:  Occupations and professions such as painters and construction workers might put you at a significantly high risk of getting rotator cuff tears.
  • Inadequate blood supply:  As growth occurs, you tend to get a reduction in the rate at which blood is supplied to your rotator cuff. Hence, it becomes increasingly difficult to repair, bringing further tears.
  • Age:  Most times, age plays an essential role in who rotator cuff tears occur. Naturally, people over 60 years are more susceptible.
  • Family background:  Yes! Doctors now assert that there is a possibility that rotator cuff injuries occur as a result of family genetics within a particular family.
  • Bone spurs:  As you get older, your shoulder bone grows bigger. Now, there is every tendency to have an overgrowth here. Your rotator cuff may wear away if this happens, thereby causing the tissues and muscles to tear.
  • Athletics:  The sports that might get you stressed and put you at risk of having rotator cuff injuries include baseball, tennis, rowing, weightlifting, etc. 

Other causes may include:

  • Poor posture
  • Smoking

Rotator Cuff Symptoms

There are specific symptoms to make you decipher if you have Rotator Cuff Injuries. When you have sudden tears resulting from an accident, you are prone to having immediate and sharp pains. You may also have a weak arm. Degenerative tears may make you have mild pains that improve with the intake of pain relievers. As time goes on, these pain relievers may not help that much again as the pain becomes worse. Not everyone will have distress, but a good number of them will encounter a certain amount of weakness on their arms and shoulder.

Some of the other symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injuries include:

  • Trouble raising your arm.
  • Pains when you move your arms in some ways.
  • Inability to lift things like you previously did.
  • Clicking sounds upon lifting your arm.
  • Pain during the night – especially while lying on your shoulder.
  • Total weakness of the shoulder

Rotator Cuff Injury Relief

If you have any of the afore-listed symptoms, listed below are some ways to relieve pain from rotator cuff injuries:

  • Apply cold packs or ice to the affected area.
  • Engage in mild exercises to ensure strength recovery.
  • Inject the affected area with a steroid called “cortisone,” which reduces inflammation.
  • Taking enough rest and wearing an arm sling to get rid of arm movements.

Rotator Cuff Stretches

Usually, performing stretching exercises can help you reduce and relieve rotator cuff pain. If you think you have a rotator cuff injury, perform these stretches every day. If you suffer from any of the above-stated rotator cuff injuries, then performing the following stretches is just the right step in the right direction:

Pendulum

The pendulum stretch is very effective on the muscles in your supraspinatus, infraspinatus, deltoids, and subscapularis. 

How to perform

  • Here, you are required to lean a little forward, placing one hand on the table for support while the other arm hangs freely on the side. 
  • Carefully swing your arm back and forth.
  • Repeat the exercise as you move your arm sideways and then in a circular manner.
  • Try the same thing but now using the second arm. 

Crossover-arm stretch

Relax! This stretch will be effective for your posterior deltoid muscle. 

How to perform

  • Chill out your shoulders and calmly place an arm across your chest.
  • While doing this, you must be holding your upper arm. 
  • At the back of your shoulder, you would feel a muscle stretch. 
  • Hold on for 30 seconds and release it for another 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the same with the other arm as you perform four sets for each of the sides.   

Passive internal rotation

The passive internal rotation stretch actively works on the subscapularis. During its performance, the subscapularis is stretched forward the shoulder.

How to perform

  • With one hand, hold a stick just behind your back.
  • With the other hand, grab the posterior of the stick.
  • Pull the stick in a horizontal manner—which will make the shoulder stretch.
  • While you feel the pressure generated by this, stay still for 30 seconds and relax for another 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for the other side and perform four sets for each of them.

Passive external rotation

The main focus of this stretch is on your infraspinatus and the teres minor muscles.

How to perform

As you perform the exercise, you will naturally feel a stretch just behind your shoulder.

  • With one hand, grab a stick and cup the posterior of the stick with the other hand.
  • Keep your shoulder elbow against the side of your body in a perpendicular manner.
  • Horizontally push the stick and pull behind your shoulder.
  • Hold on for about 30 seconds and release for another 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on another side and perform four of such on both sides.

Rotator Cuff Injury vs. Strain

Rotator Cuff 

A rotator cuff is a combination of muscles and tendons on the shoulder. They are responsible for the movement of the arms when lifted from the body. The cuff ensures that the upper arm bone ball is ideally kept in the shoulder’s blade socket.

Thus, a rotator cuff injury is an injury or tear that happens to one or more of the shoulder’s rotator cuff muscles or tendons.

Symptoms of rotator cuff injury include:

  • Shoulder pains –most especially during the night.
  • Continuous shoulder weakness.
  • Pain during shoulder movement.
  • Pain when lifting items.

Rotator Strain

The rotator strain is simply a tear from overuse or misuse of the muscles or tendons on the shoulder. It can also be caused by excessive pressure on such shoulders.

Symptoms of rotator strain

  • Weakness of the muscles.
  • Restricted movement of the arm.
  • Cracking sounds during arm movement.
  • Pain is caused as a result of the inability to sleep on the injured side.

The Rotator Cuff Injuries and Strain are almost the same. Their causes, symptoms, and treatments are very similar. However, the methods that can be employed to differentiate between the two include:

  1. Empty can test:  This is where the shoulder is held straight out as if holding a can of soda. And then poured out with thumbs down. The shoulder is then moved at a 45-degrees angle with slight resistance.
  2. Internal or external rotation:  Here is where the arm is held straight out as the palm lies flat against the back of the neck. The arm is then returned to the front and reached back to its initial position.
  3. Hawkins test:  Lastly, the arm is held at shoulder height with the elbow bent to around 90 degrees—this is to give space for the therapist; the hand is then gently rotated in the direction of the floor.

Rotator Cuff Treatment

Physical Therapy

If you have issues with your shoulder, which cause you pain in the exact direction as your rotator cuff, you should visit a physical therapist. Physical therapy is a kind of sports medicine that will assist you in getting back to fitness from the sores on your shoulder. Early physical therapy treatment will help prevent further damages and aid your healing process. Also, they will help you prevent such injury in the future.

Acupuncture

If you like to go the natural way, acupuncture will provide you the route to effective Rotator Cuff Injury treatment solutions. Acupuncture has always been one of the most common methods used to resolve musculoskeletal disorders. And it has become meaningful in treating shoulder pains and their dysfunction. Hence, if you seek relief from rotator cuff tear, you can take acupuncture as a treatment. It will reduce your pain, facilitate smooth healing, and boost your recovery process.

Surgery

Suppose you have tried many home remedies solutions as treatment plans for your rotator cuff injury, and there is still no tangible progress made. In that case, your therapist may recommend surgery for you—especially if the tear is a complete one. This surgical procedure is usually outpatient, and you will go home the same day. However, the overall recovery post-surgery is still essential and could take between twelve to eighteen months.

Braces & Compression Sleeve

Although it largely depends on the cause of this pain. But braces and compression sleeves work wonders as a treatment process. They readily provide the support and stability your shoulder requires to heal better post-injury. However, before you use a brace or compression sleeve, speak with your doctor or physical therapist if you need one and the right kind of shoulder brace suitable for you.

Exercises for Rotator Cuff Injuries

Sometimes, prevention is better than cure. However, it is not a curse if you already suffer from the injury. Nonetheless, the situation is below some lists of exercises that can be carried out to relieve pains caused by Rotator Cuff Injury.

Doorway stretch

  • First of all, warm up your muscles by standing in an open doorway.
  • Spread your arms well-out sideways.
  • With each hand, casually grip the sides of the door below shoulder height.
  • Lean forward as you move through the doorway until you have a slight stretch feeling.
  • Maintain a straight back as your weight shifts to the toes.
  • With a slight feeling at the front of your shoulder, do not overstretch. 

Side-lying external rotation

  • Lie down using the side opposite your injured arm.
  • Bend the injured arm’s elbow until it reaches 90 degrees.
  • Rest your elbow sideways, making your forearm rests over the abdomen.
  • On the injured side hand, hold a slightly heavy dumbbell.
  • Gently raise the dumbbell towards the ceiling, but stop arm rotation if you still feel the strain.
  • Withhold the dumbbell for a few seconds. After that, return to the initial position, arms down.
  • Repeat three sets of 10 thrice daily. Increase to 20 after much improvement.

Natural Remedies for Rotator Cuff Injuries

Treating rotator cuff injuries at home will help you avoid medical treatment and surgery. Listed below in this article are some of the natural remedies that could work for rotator cuff injuries:

  • Exercise:  Engage in lean practices to restore strength and motion range.
  • Apply Ice:  Place a pack of ice on the area for up to 15 minutes, three to four times daily, to reduce swelling.
  • Rest:  When you rest the affected arm, the healing process would be naturally faster. Wearing braces and compression sleeves usually makes this possible.
  • Ointment: If the surrounding tissue is preventing motion, you could have some relief with Joint Mud to help with the joints and muscles. 
  • Supplements: If the joint itself needs relief, Natural Joint might help ease the stiffness and pain. 

Rotator Cuff Injury Prevention

To ensure adequate protection of the shoulder from rotator cuff injuries, the need to follow preventive measures is significant. Thus, rotator cuff injuries can be prevented through the following:

  • Occupations that require using the shoulders should be meted with frequent rest breaks.
  • Regular exercises of the shoulder to strengthen the muscles and improve the rotator cuff.

Conclusion

The Rotator Cuff Injury is a problem that should be carefully treated. The shoulder is an essential part of the human body. And must always be taken care of. Should you be having any of the symptoms above? It would help if you tried to seek the help of a medical practitioner. You can equally try the home treatment option. These include ice application, regular exercises, and resting your shoulder. But after all of these have been done and you do not see any changes, consult a medical expert.

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