If shoulder pain is interfering with your life, you’re not alone. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates about two million people visit their doctor each year because of suspected rotator cuff problems. A rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, keeping the joint together and functioning.
If you’re experiencing pain and weakness in your shoulder, you might want to conduct a rotator cuff injury test. This might be especially critical as you get older. Four things to keep in mind when dealing with shoulder pain:
Age is a Factor
Your risk of injury increases with age. According to the Mayo Clinic, rotator cuff problems are most common in people over the age of 40. Also, a family history of rotator cuff problems increases your risk factor. Work in a profession where you perform the same arm movements over and over?
That’s another risk factor. Repetitive motion, especially if it involves lifting your arms overhead, increases the risk of injury. This includes participation in sports. Football quarterbacks and baseball pitchers, for example, are susceptible to rotator cuff problems.
The symptoms are pretty straightforward. Shoulder pain that can be described as a deep, dull ache and continues even at rest is one symptom. Patients may find the pain is enough to disturb sleep.
Other symptoms associated with a rotator cuff tear might be a popping noise in the joint when a person moves their arm or the shoulder locking in place. An injury might also manifest itself in weakness in the arm or an inability to lift the arm over shoulder height.
Diagnosis and treatment may begin with a doctor examining the shoulder for any visible deformity and determining what range of motion remains in the shoulder. From there, it may progress to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or ultrasound to check for soft tissue injury.
So, what type of treatment might you expect? Experts say rest, pain relievers, and physical therapy work for about 80 percent of people. Surgery is also an option, but several studies have concluded that surgery is not necessarily more successful than more conservative methods in treating rotator cuff injuries. When a more significant tear is present, surgery may be the first option.
Finally, if surgery is the treatment of choice, know that complete recovery could take four to six months. The recovery process often involves physical therapy to help restore the shoulder to its normal range of motion. One thing to keep in mind, it that re-injury is always a possibility, again based on the risk factors of age and activity.
You can decrease your risk by doing shoulder exercises that strengthen muscles both in the chest and upper back. A doctor or physical therapist can help you develop an exercise plan that may help prevent the chances of a rotator cuff injury. If you have persistent shoulder pain or experience a shoulder injury with resultant weakness in your arm, you should have your doctor check it out.