Rotator Cuff Injuries: Symptoms and Causes

What causes rotator cuff injuries?

In the United States alone, rotator cuff tears have become so common that 2 million people visit their doctor for this issue every year. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to have sustained this painful injury, just watching the pitchers in the World Series wind up to get ready to throw the ball is likely to have brought a twinge of remembered pain.

The muscles and tendons that band together in something like a basket configuration to provide the structure for holding the shoulder joint together make up the rotator cuff. Without the stability that it provides, we would not have the range of motion that allows the various arm movements. We don’t usually realize it until we have suffered some sort of injury, but we use the shoulder joint a lot. Like the knee and hip joints, the shoulder joint is extremely strong. Nevertheless, the constant demands made of it make it vulnerable to normal wear and tear degeneration, as well as tearing from overuse or sudden movements. 

Causes and Risk Factors

Rotator cuff tears generally fall into two categories: acute and degenerative.

Acute tears – these are typically the result of some sort of trauma, like falling on the shoulder or in conjunction with a broken collarbone. It can also be due to improper lifting, especially if the object is heavy or the lifting is done off balance or with a jerking motion. 

Degenerative tears – these are the more common and are the result of cumulative wear and tear on the muscles and tendons in the rotator cuff over time. Degenerative tears can be exacerbated by: 

  • Repetitive motion or stress common to sporting activities like baseball, tennis and golf, plus the movements associated with painters, carpenters and other similar occupations
  • Decreased blood supply for normal repair activities due to aging    
  • Bone spur, which is abnormal bone tissue that develops on the shoulder blade and comes in contact with the rotator cuff tendon, weakening and making it susceptible to tearing

Risk Factors That Increase the Likelihood of Rotator Cuff Injuries

While rotator cuff tears are common and can happen to anyone, certain factors are believed to raise the potential risk:

  • Aging – because the most common cause of rotator cuff injury is degeneration, it only makes sense that the risk is greater for those over 40
  • Sports – participation in sporting activities that require repetitive motion
  • Certain occupations – jobs that demand the same movement over and over will have a larger percentage of employees with rotator cuff damage
  • Genetics – vulnerability to this type of injury commonly runs in family groups

Symptoms Associated with Rotator Cuff Tears

  • Dull aching pain in the shoulder, especially when raising or lowering the arm
  • Weakness in the arm
  • Difficulty reaching over the head or behind the back
  • Sleep disruption, especially when rolling over on the injured shoulder    
  • “Crackling” sound or feeling when moving the shoulder in particular directions

Rotator cuff tears are usually painful and can be debilitating. Untreated they may develop into something even more serious, so it is important to make an appointment with your healthcare professional as soon after the injury as possible.    

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidenced-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing shoulder pain or have questions about any condition or service, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here