One of the most common shoulder issues we encounter at Memorial Hermann Joint Centers is an injury or inflammation of the muscles that form the rotator cuff. Rotator cuff pain and injuries can greatly impact your life because of the limitation these injuries place on your range of movement.
Your rotator cuff is composed of four muscles and tendons that coalesce around the lateral aspect of your shoulder. These muscles are smaller,deeper and generally unseen, but they are very important to the structure and mechanical stability of your shoulder joint. As the name implies, they are largely responsible for the rotation of your arm. It also provides the foundation for the shoulder so it may function properly.
Shoulder injuries usually present with slow onset of symptoms and a gradual progression, which makes them very non-specific. There are physical exam findings that suggest rotator cuff issues, but the most effective way to determine a rotator cuff injury is with an MRI. This imaging exam will tell your doctor if the muscles are inflamed or torn.
Common types of rotator cuff injuries include inflammation (swelling or thickness), tearing of the muscles or tendons and impingement syndrome, which occurs when a tendon rubs against the shoulder blade. Injuries to the rotator cuff often present as a result of overuse or muscle tearing.
Common treatment options for rotator cuff injuries differ depending on the extent of the injury. If a rotator cuff is inflamed rather than torn, your doctor may recommend a hydrocortisone injection and formal physical therapy throughout the course of several weeks that can help alleviate the pain.
Torn rotator cuffs, however, likely require surgical treatment through an arthroscopic rotator cuff repair.
Usually performed as a day surgery, rotator cuff repair involves using advanced surgical techniques aided by a camera to make limited incisions, through which your doctor will repair the damaged tissue. A local anesthetic is used to aid in pain reduction after the surgery.
Recovery from shoulder pain treatment is largely dependent upon your behavior and routine. Do not try to do too much too quickly. It is vital to listen to your doctor and to keep in mind that recovery will take time.
Recovery from this procedure varies but often involves having your arm in a sling for about three weeks. Physical therapy will likely start soon after (within 10 days or so), and normal functions—such as typing, texting, eating and other minor actions—may return after a few days.
It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions and not lift anything heavy or engage in any kind of pushing or overhead activity for at least six to eight weeks. After three to four months, you may regain full range of motion, and after six months, you may be able to resume more aggressive activities such as exercise.
Injuries to your rotator cuff can severely impact your quality of life and limit your range of motion. If you’ve experienced a slow onset of shoulder pain that will not go away regardless of rest or when rotating your arm, you may need to see a doctor. At Memorial Hermann, we specialize in offering compassionate medical care for you and your family. To learn if rotator cuff treatment is right for you, contact us today or find a joint center location near you.
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