Dealing with a Rotator Cuff Injury
What is a Rotator Cuff Injury?
The Rotator cuff injury is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain. Three common conditions can affect the rotator cuff: rotator cuff tears, subacromial impingement and calcific tendonitis. A large portion of people with rotator cuff problems can be treated with via therapy consisting of exercises (omitting overhead activities), physical therapy, and sometimes painkillers and/or steroid injections. If these are not sufficient, surgical repair is an alternative option.
Rotator cuff disorders are extremely common and can happen to anyone. They are found most often in people who repeatedly perform overhead motions in their jobs or sports. Examples include painters, carpenters, and people who play baseball or tennis. The risk of rotator cuff injury also increases with age. Sometimes they are caused by an injury such as falling on to the affected arm; this is more likely to be the cause if you are aged under 40.
Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injury
“The main symptoms are pain in and around the shoulder joint and painful movement of the shoulder. If there has been an injury, the pain may come on suddenly. Pain is worst when you use your arm for activities above your shoulder level. This means that the pain can affect your ability to lift your arm up – for example, to comb your hair or dress yourself. Swimming, basketball and painting can be painful but writing and typing may produce little in the way of pain. Pain may also be worse at night and affect sleep.
Occasionally your shoulder or arm may also feel weak and you may have reduced movement in your shoulder. Some people feel clicking or catching when they move their shoulder.”
Rotator cuff surgery can be recommended by a doctor if pain does not improve with nonsurgical methods. Your doctor may also suggest surgery if you are very active and use your arms for overhead work or sports.
Should you opt for surgical repair, the path to recovery may be long and painful, therefore it’s important that you do it right.
Recovery and Rehabilitation
In order for a fast recovery from a surgical procedure of a rotator cuff injury, pain management and rehabilitation are imperative. After surgery, you will feel some pain. This is a natural part of the healing process. Medications are often prescribed for short-term pain relief after surgery. Rehabilitation happens in stages.
At first, the repair needs to be protected while the tendon heals and you will need to be immobilized. To keep your arm from moving, you will most likely use a sling and avoid using your arm for the first 4 to 6 weeks. How long you require a sling depends upon the form of surgery and intensity of your injury.
The next stage is passive exercise. Even after several weeks of repair, the muscles around your arm will remain weak. Hopefully, after your physician or surgeon determines that it is safe for you to move your arm and shoulder, a physical therapist will help you with passive exercises that will increase the range of motion in your shoulder.
The latter stage begins after sufficient progress in passive exercises. This stage is active exercise and consists of moving your muscles on your own. With active exercises, your strength and control of your arm will improve with time.
The whole process for a complete recovery will take several months. 4 to 6 months after surgery, most patients regain functional range of motion and adequate strength. Although the process of rehabilitation is arduous, commitment to the regimen you are assigned is crucial to a fast recovery and successful surgery.