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Rotator Cuff Tears

Dr. Matt Brown
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What is rotator cuff impingement?

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons in the shoulder joint that enable smooth shoulder motion. If one of the tendons in the rotator cuff gets damaged, it can swell and become pinched in the bony top of the shoulder joint. If this happens, blood flow can be impeded, causing the tendon to fray or split.

Rotator cuff impingement is most likely to occur in young athletes and older adults, as it’s typically the result of overuse. Athletes who perform the same shoulder motion repeatedly, such as baseball or softball pitchers, are at especially high risk. Older adults can be at risk simply due to general wear and tear.

Rotator cuff impingements can often be treated at home with a combination of rest and gentle restorative exercises, though in especially severe or persistent cases, surgery may be necessary. If left untreated, severe rotator cuff impingements can develop into torn tendons.

The symptoms of rotator cuff impingement

Patients with a rotator cuff impingement will likely experience constant pain in the arm. They also may find that it’s difficult to reach upward or behind the back, or place weight on the shoulder. If the tendon is torn, patients may find that they cannot elevate the arm at all. In even more severe cases, the bicep may rupture.

The symptoms of rotator cuff impingement tend to worsen at night, and patients may therefore also experience difficulty sleeping.

The most common symptoms of rotator cuff impingement include:

  • Mild, constant shoulder pain
  • Inability to lift arm overhead or backwards
  • Weakness in the shoulder

Source: Healthline

What causes rotator cuff tears and rotator cuff impingement?

The overwhelming majority of rotator cuff impingement cases are due to overuse. Repeated use of the rotator cuff can cause the tendons to swell and become pinched, which is why certain athletic activities and occupations are considered high-risk for this injury.

Swimming, tennis, and baseball, which all require forceful shoulder motions, are some of the activities commonly associated with rotator cuff impingement. In addition, occupations that require heavy lifting or overhead arm motions — such as painting and construction work — can place patients at greater risk.

Old age represents yet another risk factor, as do previous shoulder injuries such as a dislocation. Patients with unusually-shaped shoulder bones may also be more likely to incur this injury.

The most common causes of rotator cuff tears include:

  • Certain athletic activities
  • Occupations requiring specific repetitive arm motions
  • Previous shoulder injuries
  • Old age
  • Trauma

Source: Healthline

South Scottsdale Physical therapy for rotator cuff tear

While a rotator cuff impingement is a relatively serious injury in and of itself, the secondary conditions that can develop thereby are often of even greater concern; bursitis and rotator cuff tendinitis are two such conditions. For this reason, it’s important that patients and their practitioners address the injury as soon as possible.

Physical therapy is often used to treat rotator cuff impingement. A licensed PT can help to identify, correct, and prevent the motions and conditions responsible for the impingement. A physical therapist will develop a personalized stretching and strengthening routine for each patient — one designed to encourage a safe and speedy recovery.

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