Rotator cuff injuries and tears are common shoulder problems that can cause significant pain and affect shoulder function. Here are the symptoms and causes associated with rotator cuff injuries and tears:
Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injury or Tear
Pain is a common symptom of rotator cuff injuries. It may be a dull ache deep in the shoulder or a more intense pain that worsens with movement, especially when lifting or reaching overhead. Many patients present with pain at the lateral deltoid.
Weakness in the affected shoulder may make it difficult to perform certain movements or activities that involve the shoulder, such as lifting objects or reaching behind the back.
Stiffness/Limited range of motion
You may experience a reduced range of motion in the shoulder, with stiffness or difficulty in moving the arm in certain directions, particularly overhead or behind the back.
Shoulder weakness during activities
Activities such as combing hair, reaching for items in high cabinets, or throwing a ball may become challenging due to shoulder weakness and pain.
Shoulder clicking or popping
Some individuals may notice clicking or popping sensations in the shoulder joint when moving the arm.
Rotator cuff pain can often be worse at night, affecting sleep patterns.
Causes of Rotator Cuff Injury or Tear
Overuse or repetitive strain
Repetitive overhead arm motions, such as those involved in sports (e.g., baseball, swimming), occupation-related activities (e.g., painting, construction), or certain exercises, can lead to wear and tear on the rotator cuff tendons over time, increasing the risk of injury or tears.
Acute injuries, such as falls, direct blows to the shoulder, or lifting heavy objects with jerking motions, can cause sudden tears in the rotator cuff tendons. Road traffic accidents where the patient’s car is rear-ended can also result in rotator cuff tendon tears.
As we age, the tendons of the rotator cuff can degenerate and become weaker, making them more susceptible to injury or tears, even with minimal trauma.
When the space between the bones in the shoulder joint narrows, it can lead to impingement of the rotator cuff tendons. Over time, this impingement can cause irritation, inflammation, and potential tears in the tendons. I always tell patients that when the hard bone spur rubs against a tendon, eventually the tendon will rupture. The bone will never fracture off by rubbing against the tendon.
The risk of rotator cuff injuries and tears tends to increase with age, as the tendons naturally become weaker and more susceptible to damage.
Shoulder dislocation in the older folks (people above 50) can result in torn rotator cuff tendon. It is always necessary to get an MRI scan of the reduced shoulder in these vulnerable patients to rule out a con-comitant tendon tear resulting from the shoulder dislocation.
It is important to note that not all rotator cuff injuries or tears cause symptoms. Some tears may be partial and not result in significant pain or functional impairment. However, if you experience persistent shoulder pain, weakness, or limited range of motion, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional for an evaluation and appropriate treatment.