Rotator cuff injuries are one of the most common causes of shoulder pain. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, keeping the head of your upper arm bone firmly within the shallow socket of the shoulder.
The pain associated with a rotator cuff injury may:
- Be described as a dull ache deep in the shoulder which can be sharp with certain movements of the arm away from the body
- Disturb sleep, particularly if you lie on the affected shoulder
- Make it difficult to comb your hair or reach behind your back
- Be accompanied by arm weakness
Causes of rotator cuff injuries include:
- Falling. Using your arm to break a fall or falling on your arm can bruise or tear a rotator cuff tendon or muscle.
- Lifting or pulling. Lifting an object that’s too heavy or doing so improperly — especially overhead — can strain or tear your tendons or muscles.
- Repetitive stress. Repetitive overhead movement of your arms can stress your rotator cuff muscles and tendons, causing inflammation and eventually tearing.
- Bone spurs. An overgrowth of bone can occur on a part of the shoulder blade that protrudes over the rotator cuff. This extra bone can irritate and damage the tendon.
Rotator cuff injuries occur most often in people who repeatedly perform overhead motions in their jobs or sports. Examples include painters, carpenters, and people who play baseball or tennis. The risk of rotator cuff injury also increases with age as the rotator cuff tendons undergo degenerative changes similar to what occurs in your joints.
Most acute, lower grade rotator cuff injuries will settle themselves quickly with relative rest and sometimes prescription with anti-inflammatories from your GP.
However some people will require physiotherapy to help settle their symptoms. The chartered physiotherapist will assess their shoulder to determine the severity of the injury and will prescribe rehabilitation exercises appropriate to their level of injury.
Most rotator cuff injuries will settle with time and physiotherapy. However severe rotator cuff injuries, involving complete tears of the muscle or tendon, may require surgical repair.