If you’re a baseball fan, you know just how often players have rotator cuff injuries. You, on the other hand, don’t go through life throwing fastballs (probably), so you’re not at risk for a shoulder injury, right?
The experts at Orthocenter see more rotator cuff tears than you likely imagine. It’s a common problem, with about 2 million people ending up with a rotator cuff issue. A torn rotator cuff can make simple, normal activities, like pulling a shirt on over your head, painful and difficult.
Who is most at risk?
We’ve already established that a rotator cuff tear is a common injury among baseball players, but who else is prone to this injury? Mostly, people who are more than 40 years old.
Also, it can happen to anyone who lifts things repetitively, or who does work that requires their arms to be overhead for long periods of time, and of course, athletes in different sports.
The mechanics of your shoulder joint
The reason you enjoy such amazing mobility of your arms — you can hold them overhead, in front of your body, behind your body, out to the sides — is that your shoulder is a shallow ball-and-socket joint.
There are three bones involved in your shoulder joint, your arm bone, the end of which is the ball in the ball-and-socket; your collarbone; and your shoulder blade, which has the shallow socket for your arm bone.
Your hip is also a ball-and-socket joint, but you probably can’t move your leg like you can move your arm. That’s because the socket of your hip joint is deeper and the ball fits into it more tightly.
In your shoulder, the soft tissues of your rotator cuff hold the ball in place. The cuff is formed by a group of muscles and tendons that cover the ball of your arm bone, holding it in the socket of your shoulder blade.
Your rotator cuff attaches your arm to your shoulder blade and allows you to raise and rotate your arm.
A rotator cuff tear
Each of the tendons in your rotator cuff can be torn, either a little, which is considered a partial tear, or completely, which is called a full-thickness tear. Any injury to the tendons of your rotator cuff means that the ball isn’t being held as securely in the socket.
An acute tear happens suddenly. Perhaps you’re throwing around a ball in the backyard, pretending you’re a baseball player, but you throw the ball too hard. The sudden jerking motion causes a tear.
Often acute tears happen in conjunction with other shoulder injuries like a broken collarbone or dislocated shoulder.
There’s a reason why your risk of a rotator cuff tear is higher if you’re over the age of 40. Your joints wear out over time, as do your tendons. Your tendons aren’t as supple or strong when you’re 60 as they were when you were 20.
Your tendons also wear down over time, and can eventually tear. This is known as a degenerative tear.
Painters, carpenters, and others whose work requires their arms to be overhead often are more likely to have a degenerative tear at an earlier age. In that case it’s an overuse injury — which can occur in people who play some sports like tennis or rowing.
The main symptoms of a rotator cuff tear are pain and weakness. If your shoulder hurts every time you move your arm a certain way, you should see your doctor. If your shoulder is weak when you lift or rotate your arm, book an appointment.
Another common symptom is a feeling that your shoulder is “crackling” when you move it. If you have consistent pain, and your shoulder feels crackly, you should seek care because continuing to use it could make the tear worse.
The best treatment for your rotator cuff tear depends on your age, your job, and many other factors. Most of the time, the most appropriate approach is nonsurgical. You may need to rest your shoulder for awhile, or modify some activities.
Physical therapy is often a successful method for treating rotator cuff injuries, and steroid injections may help. If surgery is necessary, the goal is to restore your ability to move and return to your normal activities.
If you suspect you have a rotator cuff tear, or you’re concerned about your risk, call the Orthocenter nearest you. We have locations in Red Bank, Morganville, Marlboro Township, and Holmdel, New Jersey. You can also send a message to our team here on the website.