With 4 different muscles of the rotator cuff that perform different actions, you would think that they each have an equal opportunity to be injured and cause problems. That isn’t the cases 80-85% of the time the supraspinatus muscle is the one that is torn or injured. There are many different ways this muscle can be injured:-
- Local inflammation of the tendon
- Minor tear from wear and tear
- Severe tear from fall or sports injury
- Impingement (pinching from improper posture or incorrect movement)
Shoulder injuries are extremely common in the active and even more sedentary population. They can be dislocations, instability,“frozen shoulder” or fractures. But the most common injury of the shoulder is to the rotator cuff. These injuries can be simple inflammation, minor tears (strains) or complete tears that require surgery.
Common Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injuries
From time to time we all experience shoulder soreness or pain. It could be from doing more than usual at home, trying a new sport/exercise or even “sleeping wrong”. This type of pain is vague and will go away in a few days. If it doesn’t go away then you should have it looked at.
Rotator cuff injuries can cause pain generally in the shoulder, front or back, and can even go down into the arm. Usually, there will be increased pain with raising the arm, most often in front or to the side.
If the injury is more severe there may also be weakness along with the pain upon lifting or raising your arm. If the injury is very serious, like a complete tear of the tendon, there might be a total inability to lift the arm. These injuries are often diagnosed with the help of diagnostic imaging, such as ultrasound and/or MRI.
Causes of Rotator Cuff Injuries
As with most injuries, there are many causes but the most common are the repetitive overhead activity (sports – tennis, baseball or work -electrician), falls or in the older population, degeneration.
Repetitive overhead activity puts the shoulder in an unstable position and forces the rotator cuff to help stabilize as well as move the shoulder.Without proper balance and muscle control, this can lead to faulty mechanics and puts extra strain on certain muscles of the cuff, ultimately causing wear and eventual injury.
As we age our muscles need more exercise to maintain their strength than when we are younger. Without maintaining this, your muscles are susceptible to degeneration (wear and tear). This usually shows up as a gradually worsening shoulder pain that we “wake up with” one day.
It’s very important to keep your shoulders strong and with a few minutes during the week you can prevent future injuries.
Doing some simple resistance exercises, like the ones shown in the picture to the left, can help prevent injury. When you are doing these exercises you are trying to increase your endurance (not power) and therefore it’s more important to work in higher repetitions at low resistance than a few very difficult exercises.
Always warm up before any physical activity to get the blood flowing into the muscles. Simple stretches such as “self-hugs” help to loosen the shoulder muscles.
If you do get an injury, using ice at the beginning of any injury will help inflammation and reduce swelling to allow healing to begin quicker. If it does not go away within a week, consult a healthcare practitioner to have your shoulder properly assessed for the extent of the injury.