I've hurt my rotator cuff? What is that?

What is the rotator cuff of your shoulder and what to do when you have a suspected injury?

A healthy shoulder joint has great flexibility. We often take for granted the flexibility in our shoulders that it starts affecting our daily activities. Think about the amount of shoulder movement required when doing everyday activities like washing your hair, wearing your shirt and drinking from a mug. For those with a rotator cuff injury, use of their arm for such activities can be very painful.

Our shoulder is made up of many structures and the rotator cuff is one of them. The rotator cuff is located at the back of the shoulder. The rotator cuff is made up of tendons of several muscles of the shoulder. The rotator cuff is made of up four muscles; the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Subscapularis and Teres minor.

The rotator cuff ensures that the shoulder remains stable throughout all range of movement. An injury to the rotator cuff or any of its muscles will comprise the stability of the shoulder.

Since shoulder is made up many structures, therefore causes of pain in the shoulder can be varied. Here are some common diagnosis of rotator cuff injuries:

1)      Rotator cuff tears

2)      Rotator cuff tendinitis

3)      Rotator cuff impingement

4)      Frozen shoulder

The common signs and symptoms are: pain at rest or on movement, swelling, stiffness, inability to lift arm above shoulders. What makes diagnosis of a rotator cuff injury challenging is that even though the rotator cuff is located at the back of the shoulder, the area of complain of pain might not be at the back of the shoulders.  So how do you go about knowing if you have a rotator cuff injury?

It is highly recommend visiting a specialist orthopaedic doctor or your physiotherapist to get your shoulders assessed especially when the pain lingers or recurs. I have met many patients during my practice with shoulder pain seeking treatment for many months after the pain has occurred. Their reason: They were hoping the pain will go away. By then, chances are, their physiotherapy rehabilitation may be longer than usual.

Your first physiotherapy session will comprise of the physiotherapist getting a detailed history of your condition followed by a few shoulder test. Your physiotherapy will then proceed to explain to you the cause of your pain along with the treatment plan for it.

In summary:

·  If you experiencing pain in your shoulder, seek medical attention. Do not let it linger.

· As there are many structures making up the shoulder, a medical assessment is highly recommended to know where and what is injured in the shoulder so an effective treatment plan can be arranged for you.

· For an assessment, visit a physiotherapist or an orthopaedic doctor specialising in shoulder injuries.

Guest Article by,

Emilia Mokhtar

Physiotherapist