By Austin V. Stone MD, PhD and Varag Abed, BS
What Is the Rotator Cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles and their respective tendons in the shoulder. These 4 muscles: the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis surround the shoulder joint, stabilizing it. Each muscle serves a unique purpose, allowing your arm to rotate and move in multiple directions. However, these muscles/tendons can be injured either acutely or chronically over time as they get worn out from repetitive movements, causing pain and discomfort. The supraspinatus, in particular, is the most susceptible to injury due to its anatomical location. Some professions, such as athletics, construction, or factory workplace individuals at an increased risk of injury due to repetitive shoulder movement.
How Do I Know if I’ve Injured My Rotator Cuff?
There are multiple ways to determine if you injured your rotator cuff. Recurring shoulder pain, the inability to sleep on your injured side, limited shoulder mobility, and shoulder weakness are all signs that you may have a rotator cuff injury. Consult your orthopaedic surgeon for evaluation of a potential rotator cuff injury. X-rays (radiographs) will likely be ordered, and if indicated, an MRI.
What Do I Do About My Rotator Cuff Injury?
Rotator cuff injuries may be treated with physical therapy or potentially surgery depending on the injury mechanism and timing of the injury. Physical therapy is incredibly important regardless of surgical management. Exercises to stabilize the scapula (shoulder blade) and strengthen the surrounding muscles. Surgical intervention is based on several factors, including injury mechanism, timing, health concerns, and age. You may discuss options with your orthopaedic surgery.
What Is the Recovery Like?
Mild rotator cuff tendonitis or injury take 6-8 weeks to improve with physical therapy. If the injury is deemed to require surgery, recovery times may take up to 6 months or longer. Recovery times would vary depending on the size of the tear, your age, and medical history. Following surgery, most patients report good-to-excellent results, showcased by decreased pain and increased shoulder movement.
It is important to discuss your rotator cuff injury options with a knowledgeable sports medicine surgeon to reach your desired goals. For additional questions regarding your injury, please click here.