Is Your Shoulder Pain Coming from the Rotator Cuff?

woman with aching shoulder

Your shoulders are work horses of the body.  They’re responsible for a lot of heavy lifting (speaking literally, of course).  When you hurt your shoulders, they’re going to protest, whether you’re sitting at the computer, scrubbing a counter, sanding a table, or lifting a box onto a high shelf.

If one or both of your shoulders is in pain, your rotator cuff may be at fault.  Injury to this dynamic group of muscles is surprisingly common.  If you’re over 32 and have shoulder pain, there’s a 20% chance that this is the cause.

Not shockingly, the numbers go up as you age.  People over 40 have a 30% chance of the rotator cuff being the source of the problem and the over 60 set, an 80% chance.

So, is your shoulder pain coming from the rotator cuff?

Rotator cuff and tears

The rotator cuff guides your shoulder joint.  When the muscles which comprise this part of your shoulder apparatus are injured or weakened, dysfunction resulting from misalignment happens.  There’s a locking effect at the ball of the humerus, where it meets the socket, resulting in pain when lifting your arms over your head, or performing repetitive motions.

When the rotator cuff suffers a tear, it may not be an instantaneous process.  It’s far more likely that the original injury or long-term repetitive motion has resulted in a tearing process being set in motion, gradually wearing the structure down to the point that its susceptible to tearing from injury.

This can occur when you’ve had a fall directly onto the implicated arm, or lift heavy objects over a long period of time.

Possible solutions

If you’re struggling through each day with shoulder pain, it’s crucial that you seek a diagnosis at your earliest opportunity.  An MRI can determine whether a tear has occurred but seeing a physical therapist who’s been trained to detect injuries of this nature is your first move, after which the diagnostic may be commissioned.

Ice is your friend, when it comes to rotator cuff tears.  Apply for 15 minutes, 2-3 times per day, being sure to wrap your ice in a thin towel to protect your skin.

Practicing good posture, both sitting and standing can help alleviate the symptoms associated with rotator cuff tears.  You can discuss posture fixes and ergonomic workplace solutions with your PT.

Therapeutic exercises can be prescribed which will ease the pain.  These can be as simple as gently rotating your arm in circles, forward and back.  Your PT will tell you what’s beneficial and what’s not.

What if I’m still in pain?

Injuries and tears to the rotator cuff can usually be resolved by working with a physical therapist.  If you’ve been experiencing shoulder pain, it’s recommended that you seek medical intervention to determine the nature of the underlying cause if the pain doesn’t resolve after one week.

When a rotator cuff injury is acute, surgery may be advisable.

If you suspect a rotator cuff tear, please contact us to schedule an appointment. We can help.

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