Rotator cuff injuries are very common, and patients at every age can injure their shoulder. The belief that only baseball players suffer from these injuries is simply false - in fact, 50% of people over the age of 60 will have a tear in their rotator cuff. The shoulder joint has more motion than any other joint, and thus is most susceptible to instability. While there are very large muscles in and around the shoulder, very small muscles, the rotator cuff, control much of the stability around the joint.
Yes, baseball players are susceptible to rotator cuff tears, mainly due to the force the shoulder goes through each throw. But overhead activity of all kinds strains the rotator cuff - whether that is throwing a baseball, painting, serving in tennis, swimming, or even just reaching above one's head. Lifting heavy objects above the head creates a terrible atmosphere for these little muscles.
However, one single motion or lift is not always the cause of these injuries. Routine, everyday tasks like reaching for an item out of the cabinet, picking up a child, reaching behind your body, or even simply putting a shirt on can sometimes cause some pain in the shoulder. While these usually do not lead to full tears, a partial tear or pain from an inflamed tendon can often be exacerbated by these motions.
So how do we treat these common injuries? Keeping a good range of motion is the first step - this can either be achieved by a home exercise program or a more structured manual treatment by a therapist. Strengthening the small muscles around the shoulder to complement this increase in motion is also vital. Stability is key, and these small muscles do most of the work when it comes to stability. Continued work on simple exercises prescribed by a therapist will help you avoid continued shoulder pain in the future. "Continued focus on strengthening and stretching will help prevent shoulder problems, however good posture throughout the back and shoulders must also be addressed," says physical therapist Samantha Ashford.
If you do injure your rotator cuff, medical attention is needed to devise a plan. The type of treatment depends on a severity of pain, duration of pain, and the extent of injury to the muscles/tendons. Most patients receive physical therapy and are encouraged to seek guidance from a physical therapist even if the injury is severe. "If only one of the four rotator cuff muscles are injured, and the remaining three are in good health, they may be enough to compensate for the injured muscle," says Ashford. "Patients can function fine as long as they keep the remaining muscles strong and their flexibility and motion up." A team approach to treatment that includes the patient, the physical therapist, and the MD should help guide which direction is needed to ensure a positive outcome.
Any questions about shoulder pain, please do not hesitate to contact one of our physical therapists.