The rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, enabling it to move. If the shoulder area is frequently subjected to repetitive movements or is suddenly jarred, its muscles can be overstretched or even torn. This type of injury, common among athletes and those whose jobs require heavy arm use, is known as a strained rotator cuff. There are several symptoms that can indicate a strained rotator cuff. Learning to identify these symptoms — and seeking appropriate treatment for them — can help avert painful, lingering shoulder injuries.
Symptoms can vary depending upon the severity of the strain and whether it is chronic or acute. Chronic strains usually develop gradually, and often occur when the bones in the shoulder area grind or rub against the rotator cuff. Individuals with this type of strain usually experience pain in the area that is mild at first but increases over time. They may find this pain prevents them from sleeping comfortably. As the strain worsens, they may have difficulty raising their arms above their head, and in severe cases may struggle to move the affected shoulder at all.
A strained rotator cuff injury that is acute usually results from a sudden impact to or movement of the area, such as a fall or, in sports, a hard throw. Sufferers of this type of injury may experience a painful tearing sensation at the moment of impact or movement. This pain will likely continue for several days, with particular soreness at the site of the strain. Depending on the severity of the injury, individuals may be able to use the affected shoulder partially or may be totally unable to move it.
Those experiencing only mild strained rotator cuff symptoms can attempt to treat the injury at home. Applying ice to the area and taking over-the-counter pain medication can help ease discomfort. Restraining the arm in a sling can allow the affected muscles to rest and recuperate.
Severely strained rotator cuffs can progress into long-term injuries if left untreated. Thus, those whose symptoms persist for more than five days or whose pain is unbearable should seek medical attention. A physician may administer diagnostic tests like x-rays or ultrasounds to verify that the patient’s rotator cuff discomfort is indeed caused by a strain. Once a strain has been confirmed, the physician may advise steroid injections, physical therapy, or, in the case of seriously damaged muscles, surgery.