Let’s start this off with an understatement: Tearing a rotator cuff is a drag!
It is such a common cause of pain and disability in the adult population that it was only a matter of time until it was my turn.
But as a professional juggler, I wasn’t ready to put my balls away quite yet.
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and their tendons. These combine to form a “cuff” over the upper end of the arm. The rotator cuff helps to lift and rotate the arm and to stabilize the ball of the shoulder within the joint. Which means if you use your arms a lot to, oh, I don’t know – juggle – beware. Overhead actions, repetitive motion, stressful movement – all take their toll on this gentle piece of anatomy.
A rotator cuff tear is most common in active adults who are over 40. It may occur in younger patients following acute trauma or repetitive overhead work or sports activity. Common exceptions to the over-40 rule include:
* Workers who do overhead activities such as painting, stocking shelves or construction
* Athletes such as swimmers, pitchers and tennis players
A cuff tear may also happen with another injury to the shoulder, such as a fracture or dislocation, but this is less common.
Acute pain usually follows trauma such as a lifting injury or a fall on the affected arm. More commonly, the onset is gradual and may be caused by wear and degeneration of the tendon. You may feel pain in the front of your shoulder that radiates down the side of your arm.
At first the pain may be mild and only present with overhead activities such as reaching or lifting. It may be relieved by over-the-counter medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Over time the pain may become noticeable at rest or with no activity at all.
I had severe symptoms when lying on my right side at night.
Other symptoms may include stiffness and loss of motion. You may have difficulty using your arm to reach overhead to comb your hair (you’re lucky if you still have hair to comb – wasn’t a problem for me) or difficulty placing your arm behind your back to thread your belt. When the tear occurs with an injury, there may be sudden acute pain, a snapping sensation and an immediate weakness of the arm.
Before the Knife
Do your reading! There are some excellent resources available that will help many people with rotator cuff pain. On my site http://www.torn-rotator-cuff.info I have links to articles and books which kept me off the operating table – and I am feeling better than new.