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Rotator Cuff Injury Signs, Symptoms, and What You Can Do to Get Relief

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Rotator Cuff Injuries are common and in fact affect most people in their life.  The pain can be both sharp and specific or dull and hard to pinpoint.  Maybe you are wondering what the treatment for a torn rotator cuff is and/or maybe you want to know about some rotator cuff exercises which we discuss below.  Rotator cuff pain and/or weakness can affect you with a variety of things from putting up dishes, playing with your kids, working out and everything in between.  Please read below to find out the symptoms of rotator cuff injuries, what you can do to relieve your pain and/or weakness, as well as find out the most effective treatment for rotator cuff injuries… Your shoulder is a ball and socket joint and the four muscles of the rotator cuff (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) are responsible for not only moving the ball on the socket but for compressing the ball on the socket so your arm can move.   While it is a ball and socket joint you shouldn’t think of the socket as very deep.  It is more like a golf ball on a tee.  With all of the muscles having to work very hard to move the arm, compress the ball on the socket, and all working in a very small space with other bones and ligaments there are lots of opportunities for the shoulder to get injured.

The symptoms for rotator cuff injuries are quite varied.  These are just some of the most common symptoms.  Pain in the lateral shoulder or top of the shoulder is common.  Usually this can be reproduced in certain positions or moving the arm, especially overhead.  Depending on the individual some times the pain is only caused with moving the arm with resistance or weight(s).  Many times there is weakness in certain movements.  Sometimes the pain is preventing more strength and sometimes there is just weakness with no pain.  Many times because of the weakness or compensation other muscles have to kick in, which can leave knots in your shoulder muscles.

The pain felt from rotator cuff injuries is many times sharp with movement and dull or achy afterwards or achy throughout the day.  [Note: Given that there are other things that refer pain to the shoulder (like the heart) if this pain has come on suddenly and especially if it doesn’t seem related to shoulder movement you really should get it looked at quickly.]

The pain can come on suddenly if you are lifting something, throwing something or moving quickly.  When this happens you may hear a pop. Many times though there isn’t a specific cause but the pain just slowly starts coming on.  It isn’t really bad enough to go see a Dr. or physical therapist for it, but it doesn’t really feel great either.  Then it has been there for quite a while and before you know it you are avoiding certain activities to avoid the pain or weakness.  Despite the common belief that you have to do something traumatic to injure your rotator cuff this slow progression is actually more common.

There are two common ways rotator cuff injuries are diagnosed.

1) Diagnosis is made be a hands on assessments by a physical therapist or Orthopedist.  (An Orthopedist will then generally refer you to a physical therapist.)   
2) Diagnosis can be made by MRI.  We often hear from people calling us to ask if they should get a MRI before they come in.  MRI’s are meant to find damage, but not the cause of the damage.  A hands on assessment from a Physical Therapist or Orthopedist finds what is damaged and what caused the damage.  The MRI doesn’t guide our treatments our hands on assessment does, but if we think that surgery may be called for (it very rarely is) we will order a MRI for you and communicate with a potential surgeon.  

While there are cases of rotator cuff tears that need surgery the overwhelming majority of rotator cuff injuries do not need surgery.  (Good News Right!).  And very few actually need a MRI. (Good News Again!).  Torn rotator cuff treatment depends on how much of the rotator cuff is remaining.  In all but the most severely torn or completely torn cases, where you would have minimal strength and difficulty lifting your arms, the treatment is the same as minor tears as it focuses on what caused the problem in the first place.  By improving how you move if we can take the pressure off of the cuff we can get rid of your pain and improve your strength and movement. 

While injections can decrease the pain they are not addressing the cause of the pain and in most cases you are suggested to do some sort of rehab weather you get the injection or not. 

Rotator cuff exercises – Usually some strengthening of weak muscles is necessary.  This isn’t general strength, but rather specific strength of YOUR specific weak muscles. General exercises from your buddy, Google, or Youtube won’t be specific enough for what you need.  

In the majority of cases the pain caused by the rotator cuff is due to a muscle strength imbalance combined with a tightness of muscles around the joint and tightness of the joint itself.  With hands on care from a physical therapist your pain will be removed, the tightness issues can be remedied, specific pinpointed exercises can be given, bad habits can be addressed, and you can get back to everything you need and love to do quickly.

Hopefully this information has helped.

Without knowing precisely what is wrong and causing your pain it can be very difficult if not impossible to fix this by yourself, but once the cause is identified with some expert help it is as simple as putting in the work to get rid of the pain so you can get back to being active again and doing what you need and love to do.  

If you want to get active again or even just be able to get through the day without pain then please consider scheduling a free 20 min phone call to see if we can help.  Click the button below to schedule your free call and start getting relief today.  If you have more questions you can also email me at or you can download our free neck and shoulder download below. 

For even more information about how you can stay active and even train with shoulder pain you can download our free report by clicking the image below. 


KinetikChain Physical Therapy

We Help People In Denver Quickly Recover From Pain Or Injury So They Can Stay Active In Their Favorite Sport/Hobby, Continue Exercising, And Get Back To What They Love To Do.


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