A rotator cuff is a complex group of muscles and tendons that support the shoulder joint and is often the site of sports-related injuries. A specialist in orthopedics and sports medicine like James M. Lee, Jr, MD, in Orange, New Jersey, is able to assess the movement of the joint and make a diagnosis. Once Dr. Lee determines that the problem involves the rotator cuff, he develops a plan to allow for healing or repair.
You hear a lot about rotator cuff injuries in the world of baseball because this group of muscles and tendons keeps the shoulder joint stable during movement. The cuff surrounds the joint, literally keeping the ball head of the upper arm inside the shallow socket on the scapula. Without the rotator cuff, every time a pitcher throws a ball, the shoulder would come apart.
Most injuries to the rotator cuff involve overuse, which is why it's such a concern for athletes who throw things. The repeated effort it takes to complete the overhead motion of a pitch, for example, eventually damages the cuff, destabilizing the shoulder joint.
You don't have to be a baseball player to be at risk for rotator cuff injury, though. It can affect people whose jobs require a lot of shoulder movements such as a painter or carpenter. A rotator cuff tear may also be a single injury caused by accident or wrong movement. Age factors into rotator cuff injuries, too. The older a person is, the higher their risk. Rotator cuff disease tends to run in families, so there is also a genetic component.
Shoulder pain is the most common symptom. The pain feels like a deep-seated ache that may interfere with sleep and daily activities. Most people have limited mobility in the shoulder as well as arm weakness. Left untreated, a rotator cuff injury can lead to progressive degeneration of the joint.
There are a number of conservative treatment options Dr. Lee may use for a rotator cuff problem, including:
In some cases, Dr. Lee may recommend a steroid injection into the problem joint to alleviate pain. Surgical repair is usually necessary only when other treatments fail or if the problem is chronic. There are a number of procedures that improve rotator cuff health, such as:
The technique depends on what is causing the injury and the overall health of the joint.