Shoulder injuries can be traumatic and extremely painful. After all, the shoulder is the largest and most complex ball-and-socket joint in the human body. As such, injury to this region of the body can prove problematic and difficult in terms of recovery.
For those who may not know, the rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons. They encompass the aspects of the shoulder joint. They keep the head of the humerus bone firmly in place within the shoulder socket. However, this essential and durable apparatus can be injured due to trauma, age, physical exertion, and bone spurs. As a result, rotator cuff injuries can vary in severity and treatment approaches.
Rotator Cuff Function
To understand the importance and function of the rotator cuff, it is crucial to understand its anatomy. The rotator cuff is made up of four primary muscles, and each of these muscles plays a crucial role in facilitating shoulder function as well as mobility. The four main muscles are as follows:
- Infraspinatus--This muscle allows for the rotation and extension of the shoulder.
- Supraspinatus--This muscle holds the humerus bone in place and maintains the stability of the upper arm. Moreover, it also helps lift the arm.
- Subscapularis--This muscle holds the humerus to the shoulder blade, which is also known as the scapula, and assists with arm rotation as well as straightening and lowering of the arm. Moreover, it also helps to raise and rotate the arm.
- Teres Minor--This muscle is the smallest of the four, and it serves to assist with arm rotation away from the body.
Common Rotator Cuff Injuries
A frequent telltale sign of a rotator cuff injury may involve dull aching pain located in the shoulder, which becomes progressively worse over time if left untreated and when the arm is used, particularly away from the body. These kinds of injuries are common and are more frequent among those who participate in certain sports, endure traumatic injuries, perform physically demanding jobs, or individuals who engage in activities that require repetitive and overhead motion. Moreover, as individuals age, they are more prone to
physical wear-and-tear and mobility issues.
In many cases, people with rotator cuff issues can manage their symptoms via physical therapy and other rehabilitation methods that focus on strengthening the shoulder muscles and improving flexibility. This is common among individuals who develop rotator cuff impairment over time, via certain occupations, and from participating in activities that involve repetitive or overhead motion.
When rotator cuff injuries result from a traumatic event, however, it is important to seek prompt medical assistance to assess the extent and severity of the injury. Treatment approaches may vary, but if surgery is deemed necessary, delaying treatment could exacerbate the injury, compromise recovery, and lead to other complications, such as a frozen shoulder.
Moreover, it is also crucial to note that extensive rotator cuff tears may not heal properly even with surgical intervention, which could result in permanent disability or significant mobility issues. In such situations, the transfer of alternative tendons or a total shoulder replacement may be recommended to limit impairment.
Those who have suffered a past rotator cuff injury or are at risk for such injuries should develop a regular regimen of shoulder strengthening exercises to help prevent re-injury or further complications down the road, such as arthritis. It is recommended that individuals consult their doctor or therapy team when designing their exercise routine so that they develop a rehab plan that focuses on strengthening the entire shoulder girdle to optimize shoulder muscle balance.
Shoulder injuries can be complex, disruptive, and even debilitating. However, that is not always the case. With proper medical attention, rotator cuff injuries can be treated and patients can recover. Moreover, the odds of re-injury can be mitigated. Alas, the rotator cuff is durable but can be injured, and these issues vary in severity and treatment approaches. Thus, it is best to be medically evaluated as soon as possible, especially when these injuries result from an accident or traumatic event.