Rotator cuff injuries and tears are extremely common. According to the Hospital for Special Surgery, around two to four million Americans injure their rotator cuff every year. Athletes, especially baseball pitchers, are notorious for rotator cuff injuries. Despite this, it’s actually the elderly who most often end up with rotator cuff injuries. A study posted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that over 35% of people in their 80s had rotator cuff tears.
If you follow baseball players, you may think that surgery is the only option for relief after a rotator cuff tear. While surgery may be the best option for pitchers, other treatment options, including anti-inflammatory medications, might be the right choice for those not looking to throw a 95 mph fastball.
And if you think that you might have a rotator cuff tear, come see our team at Steven E. Nolan, MD. Dr. Nolan is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon with over 20 years of experience and has received numerous top-surgeon awards during his career. Here, he discusses the anatomy of the rotator cuff, symptoms of a tear, causes and risk factors for a tear, and how anti-inflammatory medications can help.
What is the rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is made up of tendons and muscles that connect the upper arm bone (humerus) and shoulder blade (scapula). Their most important job is to keep the head of the humerus firmly within the shallow socket of the scapula. In doing so, the rotator cuff helps to stabilize the joint, rotate the shoulder, and lift the arm above the head.
Rotator cuff tears occur in the tendons. Most tears are partial tears, meaning that the tendon is damaged but not completely severed. Partial tears are often degenerative, meaning that they occur due to wear and tear. The elderly are more likely to have such tears.
On the other end of the spectrum are full-thickness tears, in which the tendon is torn all the way through, sometimes even disconnecting from the bone. Full-thickness tears often happen from acute injuries, where one specific incident causes the tear. These tears typically occur in conjunction with another injury, such as a broken collarbone or dislocated shoulder.
Some people may not realize they have a tear, especially if they have a partial tear that has developed over time. However, you may have a torn rotator cuff if you experience the following symptoms:
- Having trouble raising your arm
- Feeling pain when you lie on your arm or move it in certain ways
- Having weakness in the shoulder
- Being unable to lift things you normally would be able to
- Hearing a clicking or popping when you move your arm
The pain of a rotator cuff tear is more of a dull, consistent ache than a sharp pain. Oftentimes the aching can prevent sleep or wake you up.
Being over 40 is one of the biggest risk factors for a rotator cuff tear. Poor posture, smoking, and a family history of shoulder problems can also leave you predisposed to a tear.
Additionally, jobs and activities that involve repetitive motion of the shoulder increase your risk of degenerative tears. This includes painters, mechanics, carpenters, rowers, tennis players, weight lifters, and baseball and softball players.
Anti-inflammatory medication for tears
Surgery is necessary for complete tears, and may be needed for severe partial tears. However, most partial tears can be treated with rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy. Anti-inflammatory drugs work overtime with rotator cuff injuries, as they both alleviate pain and reduce swelling. They are an important part in both healing and helping you return to everyday activities without pain.
To learn more about rotator cuff injuries and your treatment options, request an appointment online or over the phone with Steven E. Nolan, MD, today.