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What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

A rotator cuff tear is an injury to the muscles and tendons in your shoulder which can be caused from a number of traumas.

Your rotator cuff is an amalgam of four muscles, all of which are connected to the humerus (or the upper arm bone). Each of these muscles has a tendon attaching to the arm.

The 4 Tendons of the Rotator Cuff

The four tendons of the rotator cuff all have equal importance in offering support to the humerus. Each tendon attaches to the top of the arm bone, tethering it to either the back or the shoulder.

Supraspinatus.

This is the largest of the tendons and handles most of the lifting of the arm.

Infraspinatus.

This tendon is important for rotating the arm in outward motions.

Teres Minor.

Like the infraspinatus, this tendon is important for rotating the arm in outward motions.

Subscapularis.

Anterior to the Infraspinatus and Teres Minor, this tendon is important rotating the arm in inward motions.

An injury to the rotator cuff involve any or all of these tendons, depending on the type and severity of the accident causing the injury.

Injuries Associated with Rotator Cuffs

There are two main types of injuries associated with the rotator cuff, rotator cuff tears and rotator cuff tendinitis.

Rotator Cuff Tears.

A tear of the rotator cuff involves injury to any or all of the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff. The causes of rotator cuff tears are many and varied. Such causes include falls, the impact of a car accident, a sustaining a blow to the shoulder, or over use in sports or other activities.

The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear can be fickle. The main signs that a tear has occurred are weakness in the shoulder or feelings of pain. However, the pain associated with a rotator cuff tear can be misleading. Occasionally, a serious tear can come with very minor pain; and a minor tear can come with more intense pain. For this reason, any rotator cuff tear should be fully evaluated by a medical physician.

Rotator Cuff Tendinitis.

This injury is due more to overuse than accidents. The repetition of acts which cause stress to the rotator cuff could result in tendinitis. Such acts include overhead lifting. Sports that can lead to rotator cuff tendinitis include weightlifting, swimming, volleyball, and gymnastics.

The symptoms of rotator cuff tendinitis include severe pain. This pain is usually focused on the area where the upper arm meets the shoulder. This pain can be felt in most movements, including lifting, pulling, swimming, and other sporting activities. Even common everyday movements can put stress on your tendinitis injury: dressing yourself, grabbing an object from a high shelf, etc.

Rotator Cuff Injury Treatments

The goal of most rotator cuff injury treatment is to bring the shoulder back to normal functioning by way of reducing any swelling and building the shoulder’s strength. In addition to use of anti-inflammatory meds, treatment measures for rotator cuff injuries include the following:

Ice & Rest.

Applying ice to the injured area for roughly twenty minutes every six-to-seven hours, if done routinely, can effectively reduce any swelling. Coupling this practice with regular rest can greatly help your recovery. However, rest does not mean simply lying down. In fact, lying in the wrong position can actually cause your shoulder stress. Rest, in the case of a rotator cuff injury, means avoiding movements which will cause pain or weakness in your shoulder. Avoid sports. Avoid overhead lifting. Take it easy — don’t put undue strain on your shoulder.

Physical Therapy.

Putting your shoulder through stretches and exercises can help with the recovery of your rotator cuff. Doing some range-of-motion exercises and pendulum exercises can help to strengthen your muscles again. These exercises may cause a small amount of manageable pain — if you begin to experience intense pain, hold back a bit. Do not push yourself too hard.

For more information on rotator cuff injuries, see a related article on the Carpey Law website.

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