Athletes from all sports suffer shoulder injuries, especially rotator cuff injuries. A look at famous athletes who have come back from these injuries — Drew Brees, Kobe Bryant, and a host of major league pitchers — reveals an emerging trend: The throwing and shooting motions of some of sports’ greatest stars put them at risk for rotator cuff injuries.
In the case of Kobe Bryant’s tear, surgery was needed. But with Drew Brees, who injured his rotator cuff in both 2015 and 2020, rest was the best treatment option. This was surely frustrating for Brees, as it can be frustrating for athletes at any level. While some other injuries require active treatments, it can be best to let your injured rotator cuff heal on its own.
Do you have an injured rotator cuff or shoulder pain that gets worse with certain movements? If so, 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 what the rotator cuff is, and rotator cuff injury types, symptoms, and treatment options.
What is the rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that connect your upper arm to the shoulder socket. It also protects your shoulder joint. You’re using your rotator cuff when you grab something off of a high shelf, play catch with a friend, scratch your back, or comb your hair.
Rotator cuff injuries
Many rotator cuff injuries occur from overuse. Athletes in sports that require a lot of shoulder movement and time spent with their arms above their heads are especially susceptible to rotator cuff injuries –— think tennis, swimming, basketball, and baseball. These types of overuse injuries often become tendonitis, when inflammation or irritation occur in the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff.
Also, people whose jobs require them to repeatedly reach their hands above their head for long periods, like painters and carpenters, may develop rotator cuff tendonitis.
Rotator cuff tears
Rotator cuff tears occur when one or more of the rotator cuff tendons is torn or when the tendon no longer fully attaches to the shoulder or the arm bone. This can cause a partial tear, where the tendon is frayed but not severed, or a full-thickness tear, where the tendon is no longer connected to itself or where it was anchored.
Falls and repeatedly picking up heavy objects and moving them above your head can cause tears. General wear can also cause a tear, and people over 40 are more likely to experience rotator injuries.
Rotator cuff tears and tendonitis have similar symptoms. You may have an injured rotator cuff if you experience one or more of the following:
- Pain with some or all motions
- Aching pain at night and after use
- Weakness with activities, especially overhead
- Trouble sleeping
- Limited motion secondary to pain or weakness
- Clicking or popping when moving the shoulder
Rotator cuff injury symptoms are very similar to other shoulder and upper arm injuries. It’s important to get evaluated by a doctor to assess and diagnose your injury.
For many rotator cuff injuries, including some minor tears and tendonitis, rest is paramount. Additionally, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs can help you strengthen your shoulder and control pain and swelling, respectively.
If the pain is too intense, corticosteroid injections may be helpful. Many rotator cuff injuries can heal on their own if these treatment recommendations are followed.
For larger partial tears and full-thickness tears, surgery may be the best option. Dr. Nolan specializes in shoulder arthroscopy surgery, a minimally invasive treatment option with less trauma and faster recovery times than traditional open surgery. It could be the best option to get you back to normal life as soon as possible.
To learn more about rotator cuff injuries and shoulder arthroscopy, request an appointment online or over the phone with Steven E. Nolan, MD, today.