Orthopedic Associates' Blog


Orthopedic Associates' Blog

Rotator Cuff Injuries & How to Prevent Them
Rotator Cuff Injuries & How to Prevent Them

By: Ryan Pitts

A complex system of muscles and tendons combine to make up the shoulder, the most mobile joint in the body. This flexibility makes some great athletic feats possible for major league baseball pitchers, beach volleyball players, and tennis players, and it also allows people to easily perform daily activities such as reaching items on high shelves, pulling a t-shirt over the head, or putting on a seat belt. Because of its broad range of motion and near constant use, the shoulder is more susceptible to injury than many other joints.

The shoulder brings three major bones together: the scapula (shoulder blade), clavicle (collar bone), and the humerus (arm bone). The humerus joins with your shoulder socket. While the shoulder is not a true ball-in-socket joint like the hip, it is similar in structure, and this accounts for its large range of motion. 

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The most common shoulder injuries are rotator cuff injuries. The rotator cuff is made of muscles and tendons that work together to keep the humerus in place, surrounding the shoulder joint. There are four types of rotator cuff injuries.

Partial tears. The tendon of the rotator cuff is not completely severed.
Complete tears. The tendon is completely severed.
Acute tears. The injury occurs as a result of a single traumatic event, often during sports or other physical activity.
Degenerative tears. The tear occurs as a results of repeated use of the joint over time. Some individuals are more likely to experience rotator cuff degeneration due to genetics, while other health conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol can contribute to increased risk for this type of injury. 

Athletes like volleyball players, baseball players, and swimmers have a higher risk of rotator cuff injury due to the consistent extension of the shoulder. Individuals whose occupations require frequent overhead work such as painters, carpenters, and electricians are also more likely to develop rotator cuff injuries.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injury

Symptoms of rotator cuff injury (except in the case of acute injury) tend to appear gradually and vary from case to case. You may notice stiffness in your arm or have difficulty raising your arm over your head, or difficulty lowering it from a raised position. Pain often first develops at the front of the shoulder, and can sometimes radiate down the length of the arm. If you are a side sleeper, you may notice pain on the affected side after a night of sleep, or you may have difficulty sleeping due to the discomfort.

Preventing Rotator Cuff Tears

First, before starting exercise or playing sports, a good warm-up is essential to preventing injury to your entire body, including your shoulders. Setting a goal to develop balanced strength in the shoulders is a great way to incorporate preventing rotator cuff tears into your fitness plan. Be sure to target each of the muscles in the shoulder with varied exercises such as arm raises to the side and “hug-a-tree” stretches, and use lighter weights with more repetitions. Keep your movements slow and controlled, and be sure to stretch again after every workout.

If you’re suffering with discomfort in your shoulder, don’t wait another day to give us a call. Many rotator cuff injuries can be rehabilitated without surgery, but sometimes surgery is necessary to treat more severe cases. Our team of doctors at Orthopedic Associates are ready to help get you back on the road to recovery. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.

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