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Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff refers to the four small muscles and tendons coming off the shoulder blade. Its job is to stabilize the shoulder.

Rotator cuff strains or tears can happen suddenly during a fall or accident or develop over time from repetitive motion (especially overhead motion) and overuse. Bursitis and tendonitis in the shoulder can also be part of a rotator cuff injury. Or the rotator cuff can get pinched between the shoulder joint and bone, causing pain and swelling.

Rotator cuff tears are the most common cause of shoulder pain and disability in adults. A tear weakens the shoulder and makes it difficult or painful to lift your arm overhead, even to do routine things like brushing your hair or getting dressed.

Rotator cuff injury: what you should know

  • Those at high risk for rotator cuff injuries include people in the building trades (painters, carpenters and construction workers) and athletes who use repeated overhead motions (swimmers, baseball players, tennis players, weightlifters, etc.).
  • Other risk factors include old age, poor posture and weak shoulder muscles.
  • Strengthening your shoulder muscles and keeping the tendons and ligaments flexible can help prevent rotator cuff injuries. So can taking frequent breaks from any activity where you use your shoulder a lot.

How can I get help for a rotator cuff injury?

Symptoms of a rotator cuff injury can show up right away, after a fall or injury, or they can appear gradually. Either way, see your doctor or a primary care sports medicine doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • A deep ache in the shoulder
  • Shoulder pain at night, especially pain that affects your ability to sleep
  • Gradual weakness and decreased shoulder motion as the pain grows worse
  • Difficulty moving your arm out or to the side

Care for rotator cuff injuries at Rush

Although most rotator cuff tears don’t heal on their own, they can often be treated without surgery. To relieve pain and strengthen your shoulder, your doctor or a primary care sports medicine doctor may recommend the following:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Rest, including limiting or changing your daily activities

If you’re very active or need to use your arm a lot for work, surgery is usually your best option. For the procedure, you will be referred orthopedic surgeon at Rush who specializes in rotator cuff repair.

  • Surgeons at Rush can do many rotator cuff repairs with arthroscopic surgery. Arthroscopic surgery is almost always successful in relieving pain, and most patients get back the strength in their arms and shoulders.
  • Sometimes, your surgeon may determine that you need an open surgical procedure. Before surgery, he or she will discuss all possible options with you.

Why choose Rush for treatment of a rotator cuff injury?

  • The orthopedics program at Rush is consistently ranked among the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Shoulder surgeons at Rush have the most experience in Illinois performing 100 percent arthroscopic rotator cuff surgery. This procedure doesn’t require a large incision, so many people are able to recover faster and with less pain.
  • Shoulder surgeons at Rush are team doctors for the Chicago Bulls, Chicago White Sox and many other professional and college teams and organizations.
  • The Orthopedic Building gives patients one convenient place to go for shoulder care. You can see an orthopedic specialist, get your imaging tests, have outpatient procedures, and go through rehabilitation — all under one roof.

Departments and programs that treat this condition