May 26, 2021

Signs of a Rotator Cuff Injury

If your shoulder hurts or is weak, is a rotator cuff injury to blame? In this blog, our team describes three types of rotator cuff injuries, how to spot the signs, and how we treat rotator cuff tears.

Your rotator cuff isn’t just one muscle or tendon. It’s actually four muscles that form a “cuff” over the head of your upper arm bone (i.e., your humerus). These muscles — supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor— play a pivotal role in enabling you to lift and rotate your arm. They also help to stabilize the ball of your shoulder. You might not think much about this complex system of muscles — until it hurts.

Here at Mid Atlantic Orthopedic Associates, LLP, in East Brunswick, New Jersey, our experienced team of orthopedic surgeons knows firsthand how rotator cuff injuries can impact your quality of life. If you tear your rotator cuff, we offer arthroscopic surgery to get you feeling better.

In the meantime, we’ve created this guide to shed light on the common signs of rotator cuff injuries and what you can do if you recognize these warning signs.

Three types of rotator cuff injuries

Before we explore the signs of rotator cuff injuries, let’s look at the three types of rotator cuff injuries. They include:

  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Tears

Tendinitis is caused by overuse of the rotator cuff. Repetitive motions (like swinging a tennis racket or painting) cause the rotator cuff to become inflamed. Bursitis is also characterized by inflammation. In this case, it’s the bursa, which are fluid-filled cushions that lay between your bone and your rotator cuff tendons, that become inflamed.

Rotator cuff tears can be caused by overuse or injury, such as a car accident or a fall. When the rotator cuff stretches too much and tears, it causes immediate and intense pain. Studies show that rotator cuff tears are very common, affecting 64% of those who have shoulder pain.

Interestingly, the same researchers noted that 39% of asymptomatic participants (meaning they had no shoulder pain during the study) showed some degree of straining/tearing in their rotator cuff. This supports the notion that the risk of rotator cuff tears increases with aging.

Signs of a rotator cuff injury

Depending on which type of injury you have, you may experience different symptoms. Some symptoms come on suddenly (such as with an acute injury) and some may develop slowly, over time.

You might suspect you have a rotator cuff injury if you:

  • Lose full range of motion in your shoulder
  • Avoid certain motions or activities because of pain
  • Can’t sleep on your affected shoulder
  • Experience pain when reaching over your head
  • Experience discomfort, especially at night
  • Report weakness in your shoulder
  • Can’t reach fully behind your back

If you experience an acute injury, such as a rotator cuff tear, you will likely experience pain in the front of your shoulder that radiates through your arm. You might also hear/feel a snapping sensation accompanied by weakness in your arm.

Treating rotator cuff tears

In addition to pain, rotator cuff tears make it difficult (if not impossible) to perform daily activities like getting dressed, brushing your hair, and carrying bags of groceries. Chronic shoulder pain caused by a rotator cuff tear can be treated with surgery.

Orthopedic surgery may be especially beneficial for you if your pain is severe and doesn’t respond to conservative treatments like physical therapy, if you’re an athlete, if you use your arms/shoulders a lot during your work, or if the shoulder/arm weakness is impacting your quality of life.

Don’t let shoulder pain control your life. To explore the benefits of orthopedic surgery for rotator cuff tears, schedule an appointment at our office. You can reach us at 732-238-8800 to get started today.

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