Diagnosing and Treating a Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is what holds your upper arm bone (humerus) in your shoulder socket (glenoid). If the shoulder is working properly, the rotator cuff gives the shoulder flexibility and control. There are a number of sports in which rotator cuff injuries can occur including: football, golf, baseball, tennis and other racquet sports, to name a few. Common causes for these injuries include:

  • Irritation from overuse
  • Pinching (impingement)
  • Tears in the tendon
  • Calcification caused by calcium deposits

A damaged rotator cuff can be quite painful causing weakness in the joint and a loss of range-of-motion. Rotator cuff tendons can become damaged or inflamed, leading to tendonitis. The patient usually knows that something is wrong.

If you suspect a rotator cuff injury, it is important to have it evaluated by an orthopedic or sports medicine expert. In many cases, treatment begins with nonsurgical options including resting the shoulder, pain medication if needed, and in some cases by giving pain-soothing injections. If rest and injections help to ease discomfort, you doctor may recommend an exercise program or physical therapy sessions to help regain strength and mobility within the joint.

In some cases, medical management of the injury may not be enough. Your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the damage in the rotator cuff. Many new advances in surgical techniques help minimize the incision size and shorten the recovery period. Physical therapy almost always follows surgery to help ensure that the shoulder is returned to its full range-of-motion.