Asian man with rotator cuff related shoulder pain, pressing on neck and shoulders with painful expression

Rotator Cuff Injury: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Amanda Garvin Pain, Pain Relief, Shoulder pain

What is a Rotator Cuff?

As humans, we have a lot of movement in our shoulder that allows us to reach, climb and swim. Unfortunately, having this much movement means that the shoulder is more likely to be injured. That’s where the rotator cuff comes in! The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles around the shoulder that help hold the bone of the shoulder joint in its socket during movement; this prevents the shoulder from becoming dislocated. Today we’ll discuss rotator cuff injuries as well as injuries related to and commonly associated with the rotator cuff. 

Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms

Rotator cuff injuries often present as a feeling of pain or weakness with shoulder movements, but there are some other common symptoms to keep in mind. These include:

  • Pain creeping into the neck area or down the arm
  • Sensations of numbness or pins and needles in the arm or hand.
  • Difficulty washing your hair, reaching above your head or putting on a jacket

What is Shoulder Tendonitis/Tendinosis?

Muscles are connected to bones by rope-like structures called tendons. Each of the four rotator cuff muscles has its own tendon. When tendons become irritated due to repetitive movements or traumatic events like falls, inflammation makes the tendon feel sore and swollen. This is called tendonitis, and it can make moving the shoulder feel painful. When tendinitis continues over a longer period of time, it is called tendinosis.

What is Shoulder Bursitis?

anatomical drawing on the rotator cuffIn many of the joints in our body, there are structures called bursa. These are small sacks filled with liquid, similar to a water balloon, located in between structures like bones and tendons to prevent them from rubbing against each other and causing damage. Just like with tendons, repetitive movement or trauma to the shoulder can cause inflammation of the bursa in the shoulder. This is called bursitis, a common cause of shoulder pain.

What is Shoulder Impingement?

In the shoulder joint, structures like the shoulder bursa and tendons are separated from the top of the shoulder blade by a small space. Genetic abnormalities, repetitive movement or poor posture, can cause this space to shrink, leading to rubbing of tendons or bursa against the top of the shoulder blade during certain movements. This is called shoulder impingement, a common cause of both tendonitis and bursitis.

Treatments

All of the issues described above are reversible injuries that can be improved through exercise and some hands on treatment by a healthcare professional. Even in the case of a full rotator cuff tear, 75% of patients can recover from physiotherapy alone![i] If you’re experiencing shoulder pain it’s best to book an appointment with a registered physiotherapist. Once you’ve had an assessment, depending on the cause of your rotator cuff pain you may be prescribed any number of the following treatments:

 

If caught and treated early and effectively you can see an improvement in symptoms within a relatively short period of time. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain and think you might have rotator cuff injury it’s best to book an appointment with a qualified physical therapist to get a full assessment and treatment plan in place– no doctor referral needed!*

About the Author

Amanda is a 1st-year physiotherapy student at McMaster University. When she’s not busy interning here at pt Health, Amanda enjoys rock-climbing and hiking Hamilton’s many trails.

 

 

[i] Effectiveness of Physical Therapy in Treating Atraumatic Full Thickness Rotator Cuff Tears. A Multicenter Prospective Cohort Study 

*A doctor referral may be required to access your third party insurance.

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