The rotator cuff is made up of a group of muscles around the shoulder. It is a common cause of shoulder pain.
Activities involving constant reach or overhead movement can irritate the rotator cuff. As a sports medicine specialist, I see this injury in volleyball players, swimmers, baseball and softball pitchers. In general, athletes that perform sports that involve overhead use of the arm commonly injure the “cuff.” In the injured worker; laborers, electricians, postal workers, and cashiers commonly have injuries to the rotator cuff.
When you have injured your rotator cuff you might notice stiffness weakness or pain with use of the shoulder. This condition is commonly treated with rest, medication to reduce inflammation, physical therapy and sometimes a cortisone injection. In the office we will perform an x-ray to look for bone spurs or arthritis. The rotator cuff does not show up on an xray. An MRI is the best way to look at the rotator cuff. An MRI scan can be done to look at the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the shoulder. It is very accurate in telling whether or not your rotator cuff is torn or just irritated.
The image above demonstrates a tear in the rotator cuff. Small tears may be treated without surgery. If you try non-operative treatment as described above and still have limited use of the shoulder, the rotator cuff can be repaired using arthroscopic or open techniques. At the time of rotator cuff repair is common to remove any bone spurs pinching the cuff.
After surgery the shoulder is immobilized with a sling. A pillow may be added to the sling if you have a big tear. Physical therapy is prescribed to improve motion and strength. Return to sports or work is related to the size of the tear. Smaller tears are easier to fix and heal much faster.