What is a rotator cuff injury?
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that surround your shoulder joint. They work together to allow the shoulder to move in different directions.
Having a torn rotator cuff will weaken your shoulders and make simple daily activities such as washing or getting dressed a challenge. In addition to a very dull ache in your shoulder, it could affect your affect your sleeping pattern, causing cause pain and discomfort when laying on it or turning in bed.
What are the early signs and symptoms of a rotator cuff injury?
Sudden injury perhaps from a fall will usually cause intense pain. You may feel a snapping sensation and immediately have weakness in your upper arm.
Injury that happens over a period of time from overuse can also cause pain and arm weakness. Lifting your arm will be uncomfortable and the pain will radiate from your shoulder through to your lower arm.
The most common signs of a rotator cuff injury are:
- Pain when you rest at night, especially if trying to lay on the injured shoulder
- Pain when lifting or lowering your arm
- Weakness in your arm
- Crackling sensation when trying to move your shoulder into certain positions
- Difficulties with everyday activities such as dressing, washing, and brushing your hair
What causes a rotator cuff injury?
In a young person, this type of injury is often related to sports that require the throwing action, such as baseball, netball and cricket. With older people, the injury is normally the result of years of repetitive overuse of the shoulder resulting in wear and tear of the joint. There may be other factors that make you more prone to this injury, including poor posture, weakness in your shoulders, and participating in sporting activities with overhead action.
How is a rotator cuff injury diagnosed?
Your doctor or physiotherapist will ask for your medical history and an explanation of the current symptoms that you are presenting with. They will then want to examine your shoulder, checking your range of motion and strength and looking for any tender areas. They will ask you to move your arm in different directions to see what movements are limited.
To confirm their diagnosis they may want to arrange some imaging (such as an X-ray or MRI scan) so they can rule out any other possible injury.
How long does it take to recover from a rotator cuff injury?
Without proper treatment from your doctor and physiotherapist, your rotator cuff pain may lead to permanent loss of motion or weakness and may therefore end up with progressive degeneration of the shoulder joint. It is recommended to start physiotherapy as soon as possible to keep your shoulder mobile.
Everyone’s treatment and pain is different, so it is very hard to put a time frame on your recovery. There are two ways to treat your condition:
- Non-surgical/ conservative treatment
- Surgical treatment
What is the treatment for a rotator cuff injury?
For most people non-surgical treatment can relieve your pain and improve your range of shoulder motion and functionality. The advantage of non-surgical treatments is that it will avoid any risks associated with surgery such as infection, lengthy recovery times, and anaesthesia complications.
There are a few conservative treatments that can help you:
- Anti-inflammatory medication. Your doctor may suggest taking pain medication to reduce pain and swelling
- Physiotherapy – specific physiotherapy exercise will restore movement and function in your shoulder. Your physiotherapy programme will include stretches to improve your flexibility together with strengthening exercises to prevent a re-occurrence
- Steroid injections – if rest and physiotherapy are not helping your pain, your doctor may suggest a cortisone injection that can help take down your inflammation and reduce your pain
Surgery is always considered a last resort. However, if may be right for you if:
- Your symptoms have lasted between six to 12 months.
- The tear in your shoulder is large
- You have a large amount of weakness and loss of function in your shoulder
- Your tear is from a recent acute injury
- A course of physiotherapy has not improved your symptoms
How physiotherapy can help your rotator cuff injury
We will do whatever we can to get you on the fastest route to recovery. Some of the treatment methods we use include:
- Strengthening exercises
- Myofascial trigger point release
- Cross-friction massage
- Stretching and range of movement exercises
- Functional exercises