The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, keeping the head of your upper arm bone firmly within the shallow socket of the shoulder. A rotator cuff injury can cause a dull ache in the shoulder, which often worsens when you try to sleep on the involved side.
Rotator cuff injuries occur most often in people who repeatedly perform overhead motions in their jobs or sports. Examples include painters, carpenters, and people who play baseball or tennis. The risk of rotator cuff injury also increases with age.
Many people recover from rotator cuff disease with physical therapy exercises that improve flexibility and strength of the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint.
While each specific rotator cuff injury has its own specific symptoms and signs, you can suspect a rotator cuff injury if you have:
You may have pain in the shoulder when you lift your arm to the side, or pain that moves down your arm. At first, the pain may be mild and only present when lifting your arm over your head, such as reaching into a cupboard. Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may relieve the pain at first. Over time, the pain may become more noticeable at rest, and no longer goes away with medications. You may have pain when you lie on the painful side at night. The pain and weakness in the shoulder may make routine activities such as combing your hair or reaching behind your back more difficult.
Once you suspect a rotator cuff injury, it is important to confirm the exact type of your rotator cuff injury since treatment does vary depending on the specific or combination of rotator cuff injuries. Your rotator cuff is an important group of control and stability muscles that maintain “centralisation” of your shoulder joint. In other words, it keeps the shoulder ball centred over the small socket. This prevents injuries such as impingement, subluxations and dislocations. We also know that your rotator cuff provides subtle glides and slides of the ball joint on the socket to allow full shoulder movement. Plus, your shoulder blade (scapula) has a vital role as the main dynamically stable base plate that attaches your arm to your chest wall. Researchers have concluded that there are essentially 7 stages that need to be covered to effectively rehabilitate these injuries and prevent recurrence.
Rest and ice are the first-line home treatment of any sprain or strain.
Apply ice for 15-20-minute periods at least three times a day.
A sling may be helpful to rest the shoulder but care must be taken not to wear the sling for too long, otherwise the shoulder joint will become stiff and may require significant time and effort in regaining any lost range of motion.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen may help decrease the pain and swelling of the injury. These over-the-counter medications should be taken with care if there are underlying stomach or kidney problems or if the patient is taking a blood thinner like warfarin (Coumadin), heparin (Lovenox), or newer medications like apixaban (Eliquis) and rivaroxaban (Xarelto). It is always appropriate to check with a health-care provider or pharmacist to determine the safety of over-the-counter medications.