Rotator Cuff: A Basic Intro
by Cathy Richey
The rotator cuff is a group of strong, ropelike fibers (tendons) and muscles in the shoulder. Rotator cuff disorders occur when tissues in the shoulder get irritated or injured. The rotator cuff keeps the upper arm bone in the shoulder socket and lets you raise and twist your arm.
The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. The ball at the top of the upper arm bone fits into the socket of the shoulder blade. This socket is shallow, and that construction lets you move your arm in a wide range of motion.
The downside is the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff work hard to hold the bones in place. Consequently, they are easy to injure and are prone to wear and tear.
Causes of disorders
Most rotator cuff disorders are caused by a combination of:
Both normal wear and tear and overuse can lead to impingement, which is what you have when a tendon rubs against bone. This damages and irritates the tendon, which causes bleeding and inflammation. Over time, scar tissue replaces healthy tissue, and the tendons become stiff, stringy, and more easily injured.
According to doctors at Mayo Clinic, poor posture,
especially as related to your shoulders hunched forward, also can contribute
to rotator cuff injury. As you get older, your risk of a rotator cuff injury
Rotator cuff tears
It takes great force to actually tear a healthy rotator cuff tendon. However, such tears do happen. They can happen during sports, an accident, or a severe fall. But even a simple movement like lifting a suitcase can cause a rotator cuff tear in an older adult or someone whose shoulder is already damaged.
Symptoms of a rotator cuff disorder include pain, stiffness, and weakness in the shoulder. Most often, the pain is on the front and side of the shoulder and in the upper arm. It may hurt or be impossible to do everyday things, such as comb your hair, tuck in your shirt, or reach for something. You may have pain during the night and trouble sleeping. You may not be able to sleep on the affected shoulder.
Treatment for rotator cuff disorders focus on relieving pain and inflammation and restoring shoulder strength, flexibility, and function. Treatment may help to prevent further complications, such as loss of strength and movement in the shoulder or additional degeneration or tearing. Treatment considerations include your symptoms, age, activity level, and the severity of the rotator cuff disorder.
Early stages of rotator cuff damage are usually reversible with conservative treatment.
These treatments include the following:
Some recommended exercises
More important facts about the rotator cuff
Keeping your rotator cuffs healthy
Remember, most of the time, treatment involves self-care measures and exercise therapy. So, do some gentle exercises to keep your shoulder muscles limber. Total inactivity can cause stiff joints. Favoring your sore shoulder for a long time can lead to frozen shoulder, a condition in which your shoulder becomes so stiff you can barely move it.
Once you have good range of motion in your shoulder, continue exercising. Daily shoulder stretches and a balanced shoulder-strengthening program can help prevent injury.
A systematic program of shoulder exercises can help prevent an injury to your rotator cuffs.
Follow the advice here, and you'll have healthy shoulders. That means you will prevent a significant amount of pain, both physical and financial.
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