The rotator cuff refers to a group of four muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. These structures aid in moving the joint and maintaining its stability during motion.

In other words, every time you move your shoulder, you will use the rotator cuff to mediate and stabilize the movement.

This area of the body is extremely prone to injuries, with the most common ones being strains, tendinitis, and bursitis.

In this article, we will cover all there is to know about the causes, symptoms, and treatments of rotator cuff injury.

The causes of rotator cuff injury

The injuries of rotator cuff tend to fall into one of three categories:

Tendinitis – This is an injury that results from the overuse of the rotator cuff, which triggers inflammation. In particular, tennis players and painters are susceptible to this type of injury.

Bursitis – a bursa is a fluid-filled sac that sits between the rotator cuff tendons and the underlying bone. When this sac gets inflamed, we are dealing with bursitis.

Rotator cuff strains – these can arise from chronic overuse or acute injury. When the tendons that connect the muscles to the bones get overstretched, they might tear (partially or completely). The pain is typically intense and acute.

The signs and symptoms of rotator cuff injury

Before discussing the signs and symptoms of rotator cuff injuries, we should note that not all of them cause pain. In some cases, degenerative conditions could damage the rotator cuff over years before the symptoms are clinically relevant.

With that said, here are the common signs and symptoms of rotator cuff injury:

  • Avoiding certain activities due to pain
  • Pain in the shoulder, especially during the night
  • Progressive weakness of the shoulder
  • Having difficulties sleeping on the affected shoulder
  • Reduced range of motion of the shoulder joint
  • Pain or tenderness when reaching overhead

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may want to see a doctor. Note that symptoms that last for less than a week might not require immediate medical attention.

The treatment options of rotator cuff injury

The treatment options of rotator cuff injury range from simple measures at home (e.g., resting) to surgery.

According to reports, non-surgical solutions improve symptoms in about 50% of patients. Some of these treatments include:

  • Resting the affected arm
  • Wearing a sling to isolate the motions of the arm
  • Applying hot or cold packs to the affected joint (i.e., thermotherapy, cryotherapy)
  • Performing exercises that restore articular range of motion and muscle strength
  • Intraarticular injection of cortisone (a corticosteroid that dampens inflammation of the joint)
  • Taking over-the-counter drugs to relieve the pain (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen)

Takeaway message

Rotator cuff injury is a very common chief complaint seen in hospitals due to its susceptibility to stress and tears.

We hope that this article portrayed the most important aspects of rotator cuff injury. However, if you have any unanswered questions about this topic, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below.


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Disclaimer:  This information is provided as an educational service only, and is not intended as a substitute for medical advice.  Anyone seeking specific medical advice or assistance should consult his or her doctor or orthopedic surgeon.