The shoulders is the most mobile joint in the human body, and your rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that hold it together. The rotator cuff keeps your arm bone securely in place in your shoulder socket.
It plays a very important role when you lift, reach, and stretch your arm, but rotator cuff injuries are some of the most common musculoskeletal injuries among people of all ages.
While an acute injury like an auto accident or a fall could result in a rotator cuff injury, it’s most often the result of slow degeneration. Years of use wears down your rotator cuff, leaving you with pain, stiffness, and restricted mobility.
As a sports medicine specialist, Aron Rovner, MD, offers comprehensive care for rotator cuff injuries at New York Spine and Sports Surgery. He serves patients at our offices in Garden City, New York, and Fair Lawn, New Jersey. If you’re bothered by shoulder pain, it’s time to learn more about rotator cuff degeneration.
How your rotator cuff degenerates
Your shoulder joint is where your upper arm bone (humerus) meets your shoulder blade (scapula). It’s a ball-and-socket joint that gives your shoulder a wide range of motion, and it's wrapped with the muscles and tendons that make up your rotator cuff.
Since your shoulders are so mobile, they’re susceptible to injury and damage from overuse. The muscles and tendons in your rotator cuff break down with age. Tendons may get thinner or more brittle, or they may even fray. This deterioration can progress until the tissue begins to separate, and a rotator cuff tear develops.
Anyone can have rotator cuff degeneration, but certain factors may make it more likely. Your risk of rotator cuff degeneration increases if you have arthritis or a history of shoulder injury.
Your occupation or hobbies could contribute to rotator cuff degeneration, too. Activities that require repetitive overhead motion or shoulder use, like painting walls or swimming, may lead to excess wear on your rotator cuff.
Recognizing the signs of rotator cuff degeneration
Acute rotator cuff tears cause intense, immediate pain. But because degenerative rotator cuff tears develop slowly, you might not have symptoms at first. As degeneration progresses, you might notice symptoms that include:
- Arm weakness
- Shoulder pain at rest
- Shoulder pain when lifting your arm
- Inability to lie on the affected shoulder
- Crackling sensation with shoulder movement
Symptoms often appear gradually and may intensify as the rotator cuff tear gets worse. The symptoms of rotator cuff degeneration won’t improve on their own, but treatment can minimize pain and improve your mobility.
Dr. Rovner specializes in diagnosing and treating rotator cuff injuries. He starts by examining your shoulder and reviewing your symptoms, then takes a conservative approach to treatment.
Your nonsurgical options can include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and joint injections. Medication helps alleviate pain, while physical therapy builds strength in your shoulder to make moving it easier.
If conservative care doesn’t make a difference, or if your rotator cuff tear is severe, you might need surgery to repair the damaged tendons.
Rotator cuff degeneration is natural, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with the pain and stiffness that comes with it. Get a personalized treatment plan for your rotator cuff pain at New York Spine and Sports Surgery. Contact our team online or call the nearest office for an appointment.