How Do the Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injury Differ From a Frozen Shoulder?

Okay, so you've hurt your shoulder but how will you recognise what you have done to it? Firstly your shoulder is made up of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and cartilage. If someone had invented the shoulder they would be winning awards for the design.There are three separate bones involved, The arm, the clavicle or collar bone and the scapula all feature. Seventeen different muscles plus the cartilage, tendons and ligaments.

Two of the most common injuries to shoulders are a rotator cuff tear and a frozen shoulder and it is best not to mix them up because the treatments are radically different.

With a frozen shoulder the capsule surrounding the shoulder becomes damaged, resulting in scar tissue forming. The capsule contracts and any movement of the joint causes pain.

However, if you have damaged your rotator cuff then you will only get pain with certain movements. The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that stabilize the shoulder and help to move the shoulder especially any movement above shoulder height. The shoulder joint is a very shallow ball and socket joint. Without the rotator cuff to keep the ball in place, we would put our shoulder out of joint every time that we lifted anything or threw anything. The rotator cuff are at risk whenever we are lifting or throwing or working at height.

The commonest injuries to this group of muscles are caused by repetitive movements, knocks or just plain wear and tear as we age. I damaged my supraspinatus which is one of the four rotator cuff muscles. Unfortunately it is the muscle that runs through a channel on the acromion (part of the shoulder blade), so when it got injured and started to swell I ended up with a shoulder impingement. The result was loss of strength in my arm, pain whenever I tried lifting my arm or moving it behind me. Tucking in my T-shirt, reaching out for a cup of coffee, lifting anything off of a shelf became difficult and as time went by it just deteriorated.

What was happening was that the swollen, damaged tendon was now bunching up whenever I used it and getting pinched against the bone. The gap that it usually moved through was now too small, so every time I used my arm with certain movements it was catching on the acromion and getting more worn. So I had to rest it and wait for the swelling to calm down.

It is only when you are forced to rest it that you realise just how much you use your shoulder. You can not work through this because the pain is is telling you that more damage is being done, eventually, if you manage to overcome the pain, you could end up snapping the tendon all together and then there is a whole heap of problems. Depending on how bad the injury is you may be advised to have an operation to release the trapped muscle to allow it to heal. But Rest, treatment of the inflammation followed by exercises to build up the rotator cuff muscles may be all you need.