If you’ve ever had a sleepless night due to shoulder pain or difficulty performing a simple task like getting dressed, then chances are you’re not alone. In fact, 15 million people in the USA are reported to suffer from shoulder joint related pain annually. The Rotator Cuff is usually the culprit when it comes to shoulder pain in men and women between the ages of 40 to 80.
The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the human body. We need that mobility in order to function with our hands and perform our daily tasks. However, in gaining mobility, we give up our stability in the shoulder. That’s were the Rotator Cuff plays a major role. The Rotator Cuff is a term used to describe four small muscles that surround the shoulder keeping it secured in its socket. If any one of these muscles are inflamed or torn, the shoulder mechanism begins to break down resulting in decreased range of motion, weakness, and pain.
There are many reasons why Rotator Cuff injuries occur. For the most part, it’s a result of wear and tear on the joint. In addition, blood supply to the region decreases as we age, and therefore diminishes the body’s healing potential. Demanding jobs that require heavy overhead lifting or hobbies requiring excessive force such as tennis or baseball may trigger injury. The triggering incident may or may not be painful; in fact, most patients don’t recall the initial injury.
A Rotator Cuff injury can be diagnosed through a wide variety or tests including physical exam, X-ray, and MRI. Once diagnosed, oral anti-inflammatory medication may be prescribed or a cortisone injection may be administered to decrease the inflammation in the joint. Physical therapy is then ordered for further reduction of inflammation and for strengthening of the Rotator Cuff.
If after 4-6 weeks of therapy you still don’t feel significantly better, surgery may be indicated. Arthroscopic procedures are widely utilized on small and medium sized tears, as they only require a pencil sized incision. A mini-open procedure is performed for the larger tears. Both procedures are effective, and have been refined over the years. Physical therapy will be required after surgery to restore proper muscle function.
As always, prevention is the best medicine. If you fall within the 40 and above age group, or if you’re an athlete, consult with your health care professional about a strengthening program for the Rotator Cuff. In many cases, physical therapy may eliminate the need for surgery. The shoulder joint is a very complicated mechanism, so always be sure to seek a specialist. Remember, the longer you wait to seek help, the longer it will take to recover.
For more information on shoulder pain or to set up your physical therapy appointment, contact your local New Jersey Trinity Rehab location.
By Michael Rizkalla, OTR/L, MLDT