The rotator cuff refers to the group of muscles and tendons in the shoulder. These work to stabilize the shoulder to ensure proper and smooth movement. When these become damaged or irritated, the result are rotator cuff disorders.
Rotator cuff disorders come in several types. Some of these are tendinitis (inflammation of tendons), bursitis (inflammation of the bursa or the fluid-filled sac that cushions the tendons and bones), calcific tendinitis (calcium accumulation in the tendons), impingement (squeezed tendon rubs against the bone), and partial or complete tears in the rotator cuff tendons.
The most common cause of rotator cuff disorders is daily wear and tear. Use of the shoulder for so many years gradually wears off the rotator cuff. Aging is also a factor. As you grow old, the tendons become thinner and frayed. Blood supply to the rotator cuff is also reduced.
Also, if you engage in activities that requires you to use your arms above the head a lot like swimming, tennis and house painting, you are at increased risk of this disorder. The type of rotator cuff disorder caused by wear and tear and overuse is impingement. Other causes of rotator cuff disorders include great impact from sports, accident or fall and lifting of heavy objects like suitcases or furniture.
The primary symptoms of rotator cuff disorder are pain and weakness in the shoulder area. The pain is usually felt only on the side and front areas of the upper arm and shoulder. It can be so painful that it becomes difficult or even impossible to do everyday tasks like writing, cooking or reaching for something. You will also have trouble in sleeping since the pain may get worse at night.
The first thing a doctor does to diagnose this condition is to ask the patient about past shoulder pains or injuries. After that, he/she will conduct a physical examination to find out how well the shoulder works. This will allow the doctor to find the particular areas that feel the pain and what kind of activities trigger this.
The doctor will also ask you to move your arm in several ways. Through this, the doctor can figure out the damage in the rotator cuff. Other tests that can help in the confirmation of the diagnosis are X-ray, MRI, and ultrasound.
Rotator cuff disorders should be treated right away to prevent worsening of the condition. When you visit the doctor, he/she will immediately recommend resting of the shoulder. He/she will advise you to use the arm very cautiously. The shoulder will not be kept still with a sling or brace as this can result in a frozen shoulder, a condition in which the joint becomes stiff.
Hot or cold compress can be applied on the shoulder to lessen pain and tension. You may also take anti-inflammatory drugs for pain relief and reduction of swelling and inflammation. Such medications include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), and acetaminophen (Tylenol). If the condition doesn't get better in time, the doctor may recommend physical therapy or surgery.