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Saturday, 08 March 2014 00:00

Managing Your Rotator Cuff Pain

About the Shoulder

The shoulder area, or girdle, includes bones and joints. The bones are the scapula, clavicle, and humerus. The joints are the glenohumeral, acromioclavicular, and sternoclavicular joints. The shoulder has the greatest range of motion of all joints in the body but is more prone to injury. The large deltoid muscle provides most of the power in shoulder motion. Underneath the deltoid muscle, four rotator cuff muscles fine-tune shoulder movement. Tendons attach these muscles to bones. The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that hold the upper arm in the shoulder joint.

What Are Common Rotator Cuff Disorders?

Disorders include swelling (inflammation), called tendonitis, and tears of tendons or muscles. Other names for rotator cuff tendonitis include shoulder impingement syndrome, tennis shoulder, and swimmer’s shoulder.

What Causes Rotator Cuff Disorders?

Trauma throughout one’s lifetime leads to rotator cuff problems. Activities in which the arms are repeatedly moved over the head, such as baseball, swimming, and tennis, cause such trauma. Certain jobs, such as house painting, use similar motions, which stress the shoulders and cause inflammation and pain.

What Are the Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Disorders?

The main symptom is shoulder pain, especially when the arm is moved to the side, up over the head. The arm and shoulder may also feel weak. Other symptoms include pain that worsens with activities, such as brushing hair and lying down to sleep. Pushing objects away from the body with the arm can be painful, but pulling objects is usually not.

Tendonitis can also lead to a tear in the rotator cuff tendon. Then the shoulder becomes weak, and it becomes very hard to do anything with the arm overhead.

How Are Rotator Cuff Disorders Diagnosed?

The doctor uses a medical history and physical examination for diagnosis. The shoulder and arm are moved in specific ways. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) helps when a tear is suspected.

How Are Rotator Cuff Disorders Treated?

Rotator cuff tendonitis can usually be treated without surgery.

The doctor may prescribe medicines such as nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for inflammation and pain. These drugs, however, can cause stomach pain and bleeding and other problems.
Exercise can help reduce pain. This exercise may include physical therapy to strengthen rotator shoulder tendons. Ice packs applied to the shoulder also help reduce pain and inflammation.

Surgery can repair a torn tendon or can be done when physical therapy does not help. Surgery might be a less invasive arthroscopic operation (inserting a small tool to see the rotator cuff directly and repair any damage).

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Rotator Cuff Pain:

  • DO take your medicines and perform your exercises as directed.
  • DO rest your arm. Sometimes rest is all that is needed.
  • DO try to do tasks with your unaffected arm.
  • DO call your doctor if pain is bad enough to interrupt sleep at night and can’t be controlled with over-the-counter drugs.
  • DON’T use pain medicine that may be addictive for long-term therapy.
  • DON’T do activities in which you put your hands above your head. Don’t do push-ups, and don’t do strenuous sports while healing.

For more information, see the attachments below.

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