The rotator cuff is located where the arm meets the rest of the body at the shoulder. It consists of four muscles that work together to move the shoulder and an injury to this area can be quite painful and potentially dangerous. An injury to the rotator cuff is called a tear and it occurs when the ligaments are harmed. It can lead to long term damage such as arthritis due to fluid buildup if it is not properly treated.

How Did It Happen?

A rotator cuff can be torn or strained in many different ways. The injury may be minor and if so it is referred to as acute. If it is a severe injury it is referred to as chronic. An acute injury generally occurs after a specific, brief movement that causes damage to the ligaments. This could simply be lifting something too heavy or falling down and bracing the fall with an arm.

A chronic injury is more serious and may occur after repetitive acute tears. It may also occur with athletes or those who use the four muscles in their rotator cuff on a regular basis. Other considerations that may cause a rotator cuff tear include tendinitis or degeneration. Both of these may happen with age. A chronic tear takes longer to heal than an acute one and it may be more harmful.

What Are The Symptoms?

Rotator cuff symptoms vary from person to person because there is generally pain in the shoulder before the cuff actually tears. This pain may be mild to severe. Pain in the shoulder should be addressed as early as possible because a tear may be able to be prevented with plenty of rest. However, pain is not the only symptom of an injured rotator cuff.

A weakened or stiff shoulder is another sign of a torn rotator cuff. This is something that many athletes notice right away because they use their shoulders often. For those of us who do not, it is easy to tell when one’s shoulder is weak or stiff because raising the arm or moving the shoulder around in circles will cause more pain and discomfort.

Other rotator cuff symptoms to look out for include swelling and redness. This usually occurs after the ligaments are all the way torn. Redness can mean an infection of the shoulder bone so this particular symptom is one to cause some alarm. Swelling may simply occur after a minor injury to the rotator cuff but it is still vital to keep an eye out for this uncomfortable side effect.

What To Do Next?

Always see a doctor if there is a possibility of a torn rotator cuff. This is recommended because surgery may be required to treat the injury. In addition, if an acute injury goes untreated it could become chronic. In the meantime, it is important to ice and elevate a torn rotator cuff. It also helps to take a pain reliever and keep the shoulder still whenever possible.

Donna Shannon is an adult education teacher, volunteer coordinator, and health content writer living in Concord, New Hampshire with her husband who is a physician’s assistant. She often writes about rotator cuff symptoms and their remedies at eHealthMD.


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