What Does It Take to Recover After a Rotator Cuff Injury?
The rotator cuff is a name for the muscles and tendons in your shoulder. There are actually four muscles, bound by tendons to the humerus, which is the upper part of your shoulder. Together, they enable you to raise and rotate your arm, and they hold your shoulder joint in its place. When an injury happens, a tendon, or sometimes more than just one, get detached from the humerus partially or completely. This can limit your arm and shoulder movement, but also cause severe pain. Fortunately, there are treatments for the rotator cuff tear. Here are some of the causes for this injury, the symptoms, different treatments, and how long the recovery period usually lasts.
What can cause a rotator cuff tear?
There are two categories of injury to the rotator cuff. The first one is the acute injury and the second one is chronic degeneration. An acute injury occurs while performing certain activities which involve shoulder and arm movement. Some of the acute injuries are caused by dislocating your shoulder or breaking your collarbone, by falling down with your arm outstretched, by lifting something suddenly or by lifting something that’s very heavy. Many people experience an acute rotator cuff tear when lifting weights or doing other exercises in the gym, when doing sports or something physically demanding at work. On the other hand, chronic degeneration happens with time. In other words, it’s when your tendons get worn down with age, which is more likely to happen to your dominant arm. Things that can contribute to these injuries are a decreased blood supply to the tendons, bone spurs that develop in your shoulder and that press on your rotator cuff, or repetitive movements, especially in athletes or in professionals such as carpenters.
How can I tell I’ve torn my rotator cuff?
With an acute rotator cuff tear you can sometimes feel pain straight away, or even hear a snapping sound in your shoulder, after which you usually experience weakness in your upper arm. In other cases, you won’t actually feel or hear anything immediately, but you might feel like your shoulder is popping upon moving your arm, or cracking when you move the shoulder itself. You may also feel pain in your shoulder, even when it’s completely inactive, or when you raise your arm or throw something over your head. Also, there may be some weakness in your arm and hand. Some of these symptoms aren’t caused by the injury, but rather by the inflammation that follows it. If you notice any of these symptoms, visit your doctor. They will ask you anything they need to know about the injury and the pain it causes, but they’ll also examine you to see what your range of motion is and listen to your shoulder while you move it, to hear if there are any cracking or popping sounds. They may also recommend an X-ray or an MRI to determine the extent of the injury and come up with a recovery plan.
What are the most common treatments?
Sometimes it will be enough to treat the rotator cuff injury at home, by simply icing the painful area repeatedly and resting it until it gets better. Also, over-the-counter pain killers can help manage the pain and the swelling, while physiotherapy can help you get your shoulder strength back. This is a very useful part of the recovery process, and especially important for those who are most prone to rotator cuff injuries, such as rowers. That’s why cities with many rowing clubs, such as Sydney, have many physiotherapists. The key is to find the best ones, who can efficiently help you deal with the pain, improve your movement range and make you independent again, such as the respected Ashfield physio, where they guarantee one-on-one treatments individually tailored for every patient. If none of these therapies help, your doctor may suggest surgery as a treatment option. They will do so if it’s been about six to twelve months and your symptoms haven’t subsided, if you’re in pain and without strength in your shoulder, or if there’s still a tear in one of your rotator cuff tendons.
What kind of surgery do I need?
There are several types of surgery to solve your rotator cuff problem, such as tendon transfer or shoulder replacement, but the most common two are arthroscopic repair and open tendon repair.
Arthroscopic repair involves one or two miniature cuts in your skin, where a camera is inserted. This camera is called an arthroscope and your surgeon will use it to see exactly which portion of your rotator cuff got damaged. Alongside the arthroscope, they will also insert thin surgical tools, which they will utilize to repair the damage they find in the best and most effective way.
Open tendon repair has been used for treating this type of injuries for a long time now. In fact, this was the first kind of surgery ever used to fix a rotator cuff tear, and it’s still a frequent choice for surgeons, especially in cases of huge and complicated tears. It requires a big incision to be made on your shoulder, through which the surgeon detaches your shoulder and gains direct contact with the tendon in question, so that it can be fixed.
In case of both these surgeries, you can either get a local anesthesia, or a general one, which is something you should discuss with your doctor. Due to the nature of the surgeries, you’ll normally recover faster after the arthroscopic one, with less pain involved right after the procedure. However, whether you get one surgery or another, it will most likely take approximately six months to fully recover. You’ll probably have to wear a sling for around six weeks, so that your shoulder is protected and the rotator cuff has enough time to heal completely. Also, don’t expect the surgery to instantly take away all the pain. In fact, the chances are you’ll need a couple of months to feel fine again, during which time your doctor will probably prescribe you over-the-counter pain relievers. Make sure you only take those as directed. Furthermore, you’ll have to invest your time and effort in physical therapy and exercises you can do at home, which are meant to help you enhance both your shoulder motion range and strength.
Injuries can happen in the nick of time, and the best thing you can do in such cases is to visit your doctor and have them examine your shoulder. Only with a professional can you be sure that your injury will be appropriately tended to.