by Joseph Zimmerman, MD

Each year over 2 million Americans seek treatment for shoulder pain related to rotator cuff pathology. The problem can range from tendinitis to a full-thickness tear. These injuries can happen at any time; however, it becomes easier to damage the rotator cuff as we age. With a rotator cuff injury, everyday tasks such as getting dressed or reaching into a cupboard can be severely painful or impossible.

X-ray of rotator cuffThe rotator cuff is an important group of muscles and tendons in the shoulder that help to lift and rotate your arm. Although the shoulder is a “ball and socket” joint, the socket is very shallow. We often compare this joint to a golf ball on a tee. In addition to helping move your arm, the rotator cuff also helps stabilize the joint. The vast range of motion this complex joint can accomplish also leaves it susceptible to injury.

For younger patients, a significant trauma may be required to injure the cuff, whereas wear and tear injuries become more common later in life. Repetitive stress to the shoulder can result in micro-tears and tendon degeneration over time. Bone spurs can develop that rub on the cuff, thinning it out and causing shoulder pain. With age, the blood supply to the tendinous portion of the rotator cuff decreases, hindering the body’s natural ability to repair this tendon damage. Over time, or with an acute injury, this can lead to a tear in the tendon.

What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff problem? A common complaint is shoulder pain at rest, particularly at night. Overhead activities and certain motions with the arm can be quite painful and difficult. Weakness with activity, with or without pain, can indicate a cuff problem. Patients may also experience crepitus or cracking and popping in the shoulder. At first, these symptoms may respond to over-the-counter medications, but with time they can become ineffective.

Rotator Cuff - resistance exercisesWhat can you do about it? Before a problem occurs, a simple routine of stretching and resistance exercises can help strengthen the shoulder and safeguard it against some injuries. If you are already experiencing shoulder pain, this routine may still help with symptoms. Unfortunately, the statistics are not in our favor. Studies have shown that 30% of adults over 60 have a rotator cuff tear, and 62% of adults over 80 have tears. Since many other problems can also cause shoulder pain, it is important to get evaluated by a medical professional. With a proper diagnosis, there are options for treating your symptoms and often fixing the problem.

Joseph Zimmerman is a Board Certified, fellowship-trained Surgeon from the Bone and Joint Center in Albany, NY specializing in shoulder and knee surgery including rotator cuff procedures. Please call 518-689-0183 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Zimmerman.

Bone and Joint Center
1367 Washington Ave Suite 200
Albany, NY 12084