A couple of years ago, I started having some shoulder and arm pain. I talked to my mom, who is a retired nurse, and she said it might be my rotator cuff. She had previously had her rotator cuff repaired and said that my symptoms sounded similar. I went to see one of the orthopedic doctors at Christ Hospital. I had some X-rays and an evaluation done.
Luckily, I didn’t have a rotator cuff injury, but I did need some physical therapy. You hear a lot about rotator cuff injuries with athletes and sports teams, but it feels like it’s becoming more common. To understand more about rotator cuff injuries and just how common they are, I spoke to Namdar Kazemi, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with The Christ Hospital Physicians - Joint & Spine.
Why are there so many rotator cuff issues?
Dr. Kazemi told me that rotator cuff disease is by far the most common shoulder condition that he sees. The reason is likely wear and tear, but can also be the result of shoulder trauma.
The rotator cuff tendons are actually a group of four tendons thatallow movement of the arm while stabilizing the arm on the shoulder socket. A rotator cuff tear occurs as a result of partial or complete separation of the tendon from the upper arm bone.
Several risk factors have been identified predisposing individuals to development of rotator cuff tears including increasing age, smoking, hypercholesterolemia and family history of rotator cuff disease. And just like I had issues with my shoulder and arm, Dr. Kazemi said rotator cuff problems generally present with arm pain in the shoulder area, mid-arm area, and even sometimes extending down to the level of the elbow. The injury can also limit the arm’s mobility and function at the shoulder.
A lot of times patients seek medical attention when they start having pain at night that interferes with their sleep. The interesting thing is that rotator cuff injuries are not the same for everyone. The majority of tears are chronic, and they develop over time. Some are acute and happen because of a traumatic event such as a shoulder dislocation.
How can it be treated?
When it comes to treatment, Dr. Kazemi said, “For the most part, and especially for chronic tears, the majority of rotator cuff pathology can be treated conservatively with a course of physical therapy. Sometimes injections can be helpful as well. Injections help with the pain and give patients a period of relief so that they can do the physical therapy exercises more effectively.”
Surgical repair of the rotator cuff may be required for certain patients. Surgery is arthroscopic and generally involves re-attaching the tendon back to the arm bone to allow it to heal.
How is recovery?
I remember my mom had some issues after her rotator cuff surgery, because the recovery can be the hard part. Generally, recovery involves a period of immobilization in a brace, followed by a few months of physical therapy. You can go back to high-demand activities generally in about 5-6 months, with full recovery in about 12 months.
Orthopedic injuries such as rotator cuff tears can happen at any time. You can avoid the wait time at emergency rooms at our Orthopedic After Hours Clinic. Click here for more information.
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