Rotator Cuff Injuries


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The term “rotator cuff" defines the group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder. These muscles and tendons essentially “cuff" around the head of the humerus, otherwise known as the long bone of the arm, holding it to the scapula, otherwise known as the shoulder blade. Responsible for much of the shoulder's stability, the rotator cuff is made up of four muscles, the supraspinatus, the infraspinatus, the teres minor, and the subscapularis. A rotator cuff injury happens when one of these four muscles is damaged. This can occur suddenly, or it can develop gradually over time. The injuries can also be minor, with no permanent damage, or be severe enough to require surgery.

What are the Causes
Rotator cuff injuries can be caused by a variety of things. First of all, chronic tears, or tears that progress over time, are often found in jobs that require excessive rotator cuff use. These can include painters, construction workers, and baseball players. On the other end of the spectrum are acute tears. These are tears that occur suddenly and usually involve a large amount of force. These tears can happen when lifting an extremely heavy object, or falling on a shoulder. Rotator cuffs can also tear because tendonitis.

But, Rotator cuff injuries aren't always the result of an occupation, an accident, or a condition. They can also be caused by advanced age. Rotator cuff injuries from old age often occur when the tendons comprising the cuff are rubbed up against a bone. In a normal rotator cuff there is a small sac of fluid (the subacromial bursa) that cushions the tendons against the bones. When inflammation sets in, due to things like calcium deposits, this cushion becomes smaller, allowing the tendons to be squeezed and ultimately rubbed against the bones. This causes damage to the tendon, leaving the tendons, over time, stringy, weak, and more likely to tear.

Risks of Rotator Cuff Injuries
There are several risk factors that can cause rotator cuff injuries. To begin, people who are born with irregularly shaped bones can have a rotator cuff that moves abnormally, causing quicker degeneration of the tendons. A person's age is also a risk factor. People who are older are more likely to have normal wear and tear of the rotator cuff, as well as decreased blood supply to the tendons and thinning of the tendons. Age aside, people who engage in repetitive activities that involve force on the shoulder are more likely to be subject to a rotator cuff injury. Additionally, joint looseness and an imbalance of the muscles can also play a large role in how easily a rotator cuff will tear.

The risk of a rotator cuff injury can also be increased with any kind of lifestyle that impedes a person's health. Smoking, for instance, decreases blood flow and blood supply, slowing the healing process of any injuries that have been sustained.

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injuries
The most common symptom of a rotator cuff injury is pain, but stiffness and an overall weakness of the shoulder are also typically present. A person with an unknown tear may find activities such as parting their hair, brushing their teeth, or getting a can of soup out of the pantry difficult or impossible. The pain is usually localized to the front and side of the shoulder, as well as the upper arm.

While the pain may be stable, and involve different degrees, it will almost always increase when the arm is raised overhead. Rotator cuff injuries that are minor are usually classified by pain only when active, particularly when raising the arms. Minor injuries are usually not painful when a person is at rest. Those with moderate damage will have pain during activity and directly after activity. There may also be pain at night and an interruption of sleep. For those with severe damage, continuous pain will be present.

Prevention of Rotator Cuff Injuries
While not all injuries can be prevented, there are a few things that can be done to decrease their risk. For instance, keeping the muscles strong and flexible through exercise will provide the rotator cuff with more resistance to damage. Abstaining from activities that require excessive and repetitive use of the rotator cuff, such as throwing a baseball, can also help reduce the risk. Along these lines, using good judgment, and not catching or lifting objects that are too heavy can help keep the rotator cuff from tearing. Finally, taking frequent breaks when overhead use of the arms is required, such as when painting a house, and giving these muscles an adequate amount of rest in between movements can help prevent injuries.

Treatment of Rotator Cuff
In the invent that a rotator cuff does tear there are a variety of treatment options. These options all aspire to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and reclaim strength, function, and flexibility. While all maintaining a common goal, these treatment options can vary depending on the age, activity level, and occupation of the injured.

While severe rotator cuff injuries may be repaired surgically, many can be helped in non-surgical manners. These treatments may include resting the shoulder in a sling, gently moving it from time to time to avoid stiffness; using a heating pad, a bag of ice, or pain medications; avoiding activities and positions that seem to aggravate the pain; and strengthening the surrounding shoulder muscles.

Physical therapy is also a form of treatment sought by many with rotator cuff injuries. Through physical therapy, a person is taught exercises and stretches that strengthen the muscle, gradually restoring function. Many of these exercises can even be performed at home. Physical therapy also provides the injured with information on muscle function, support, and tips for prevention.

About Us: The Center for Osteopathic Medicine in Boulder, Colorado believes in The Osteopathic Difference. In a medical industry focused on treating symptoms, The Center is more focused on finding the cause of these symptoms. The Osteopathic Difference is the application of “Hands on Therapeutics" for both the diagnosis and treatment of complaints, disorders, and pain. The Osteopathic Difference will apply the time proven osteopathic fact that function is directly related to structure, and poor structure will lead to poor function.

While The Center tries to focus on health, and above all else, prevention for all those who cross into its threshold, sometimes the best that can be done is to recognize the source of the “DIS-EASE, " and to teach every individual how to manage their symptoms. Believing that it is the most important aspect of any treatment regime, and that it is the primary job of the health care practitioner, The Center works to empower the patient in the maintenance of their own health.

Achieving health is also an elusive place, and The Center will work tirelessly to create a path to health which, when embraced by the patient over time, will allow the patient to enjoy a positive return on their rehabilitation investment. The Center teaches a Mindfulness Yoga Program that aims to educate the patient in the power of the mind to minimize, if not rid the body of, aches and pain. Although the ultimate goal of health is to live without the use of drugs, natural or otherwise, The Center for Osteopathic Medicine recognizes the importance of medicinals and their appropriate use. All styles of “Hands on Manipulation" are practiced at The Center. By combining these Manipulative techniques with Structural Integration, massage, meditation and Western Medicine, The Center for Osteopathic Medicine helps people to identify disease before it manifests, quiet pains that have been previously diagnosed as Chronic, and embrace a holistic mindset to Live in the Present- and within that presence, live completely well.

The information discussed in this article is for informational and educational purposes only. If you are experiencing symptoms of a health problem, please visit your doctor. The material discussed on this website is not meant to replace the opinion or diagnosis of a medical professional.

Jennifer Jordan is a senior editor for . Specializing in articles related to health and wellness, the material she writes is intended to arm people with the resources they need to live a life of wellness and completeness.


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