The shoulder area of the human body is a complex mechanism that we rely upon for countless daily activities. So it is no wonder when an individual has severe pain in the shoulder region resulting from a traumatic injury, or pain that comes on gradually, it seems to bring a person’s life to a grinding halt. Although shoulder pain can result from a multitude of issues, a prompt visit to a qualified physician can determine if a tear in the rotator cuff is the culprit.
What is a Rotator Cuff?
The shoulder joint itself is known as a ball-and-socket joint. The top of the arm bone forms a shape somewhat like a ball and fits into a groove of the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff comprises four different muscles that fit together around the ball of the arm bone, or humerus. These series of muscles not only hold the humerus in the socket of the shoulder blade, they also provide an individual with the ability to lift and rotate their arm.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
A rotator cuff injury typically occurs either by a traumatic injury such as a fall or sports injury, or occurs gradually over time especially after age 40 from daily wear and tear activities. Repetitive motions that one may incur in certain work activities such as repeated lifting, carpentry work or painting are also known to cause injury. When the rotator cuff tears, whether through an acute trauma or through a gradual process, the result is pain in the shoulder and arm regions.
Do I have a Rotator Cuff Injury?
Anyone who has sudden shoulder or arm pain from a recent injury, or pain that comes on gradually and is not relieved by over-the-counter pain medications, should seek medical attention. If the physician suspects a rotator cuff injury, they will most likely order an MRI or other diagnostic test to confirm the pain is coming from a tear in the rotator cuff. It is important to get prompt medical attention as a tear left unchecked can result in significant loss of use of the affected arm and shoulder region. Once a physician is able to make a diagnosis, they may either determine surgery is necessary to repair the tear or they may decide that physical therapy is the best option.
Physical Therapy or Surgery?
If a physician has determined physical therapy is the best option for a patient, they will typically write a prescription for a certain number of physical therapy treatments or a specific number of weeks. One of our qualified physical therapist will evaluate the level of function in the shoulder and arm region of the patient and will also note their pain level. The therapist will then determine a course of action which will include exercises to stretch and strengthen the rotator cuff and surrounding areas. They will most likely assign a series of exercises to perform at home as well and offer advice on what activities to avoid until the patient has healed. It is important to follow through with all the exercises prescribed by the therapist in order to regain full use of the affected arm and shoulder. After a series of treatments, the patient will most likely revisit their physician who will evaluate their progress and either prescribe more PT treatments or in some cases, schedule surgery if a patient is not responding well to physical therapy.
Rotator cuff injuries can be quite painful and they can significantly impact the ability to perform one’s daily activities. Fortunately, there is help available to get a patient fully functioning again and able to accomplish any physical activity that may arise. For more information on how we can help you heal from a rotator cuff injury and get you back to your normal activities, please contact us.