The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles that surround the shoulder joint and connect the upper arm to the shoulder blade. These muscles stabilize the shoulder while allowing great flexibility and a wide range of motion. Because the rotator cuff is comprised of soft tissues, it is vulnerable to injury from overuse and trauma. Actions that are forceful or repetitive can damage the rotator cuff and cause painful conditions like tendinitis, impingement and tears.
A rotator cuff injury typically feels like a dull ache deep within the shoulder tissues. Pain may be accompanied by arm weakness and difficulty reaching overhead or behind the back. Although rotator cuff injuries are most commonly seen in athletes and people who do repetitive lifting or overhead activities on the job, these injuries can happen to anyone. Some common causes of rotator cuff injuries include:
- Heavy lifting
- Forceful arm movements
- Holding your arm in the same position for extended periods of time (hair-styling or computer work)
- Working with your arms overhead (painting, carpentry or stocking shelves)
- Playing sports (throwing a baseball, swinging a tennis racquet or swimming)
- Muscle degeneration that comes with age (Source: New York Times)
Rotator cuff injuries are preventable, but they cannot always be avoided. Accidents happen, and sometimes our jobs or activities leave us prone to these types of injuries. However, you can greatly reduce your risk of suffering an injury by taking some preventive measures.
- Be mindful of your posture. Keep your back straight, shoulders relaxed and avoid slouching.
- Avoid lifting objects overhead that are too heavy for you.
- Do not attempt to catch falling objects.
- If your job requires you to raise your arms for extended periods of time, take frequent breaks and talk to your doctor about non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) to control pain and inflammation.
- Perform stretches and strengthening exercises to keep your shoulders flexible and strong.
- Avoid forceful contact sports that can result in falls or injury (Source: WebMD).