Rotator cuff injuries are common and difficult to fix. They may require surgery, and even then, the success rate is limited. Now, that’s starting to change thanks to two new developments.
Your rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that help stabilize and move your shoulder joints. Tears can occur due to injuries, repetitive activities, and age-related degeneration.
Surgeons at the University of Alabama have pioneered a new approach to large tears that were considered irreversible until now. They insert a temporary balloon that acts like a natural barrier to give your shoulder a chance to heal.
Another breakthrough at the University of Connecticut has even broader implications. They’re experimenting with regenerating muscle, rather than just reattaching the tendon to the bone. This could reduce fat infiltrations and repeat injuries.
It’s too soon to say when procedures like these will become widely available. Still, they can give you more hope while you continue using the options we have now.
Treating Rotator Cuff Injuries
Minor tears may heal on their own. For larger ones, prompt medical attention can minimize the damage and increase your chances of recovery.
These strategies can help treat rotator cuff injuries:
1. Get diagnosed. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. They may also do tests, including X-rays and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
2. Treat pain. Rest and ice may be adequate, along with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen. For more severe pain, your doctor may recommend steroid injections.
3. Use ultrasound. Some patients benefit from therapy with focused sound waves. It can sometimes heal tendons with less cost and risks compared to surgery.
4. Consider surgery. If you need an operation, your doctor will advise you about your options. In most cases, it’s safe to wait and see while you try more conservative measures first.
5. Rest the area. Avoid activities that aggravate your symptoms. That includes reaching your arms over your head and lifting too much weight.
6. Stretch and strengthen. Targeted exercises are an essential part of your recovery. Your doctor or a physical therapist can advise you about what’s safe for you.
7. Sleep carefully. You’ll probably find it difficult to lie down comfortably. You may prefer to sleep in a reclined chair or lie on your uninjured side while hugging a pillow gently with your sore arm.
Preventing Rotator Cuff Injuries
These injuries become more common when you reach 40. By the time you’re 80, more than 50% of adults experience them.
Use these tips to protect your shoulders:
1. Adjust your posture. Slouching puts a lot of extra pressure on your shoulders. Keep your chest raised and your shoulders relaxed and slightly lowered. Stand up and move around when you’ve been sitting for long periods.
2. Work out. Keep your shoulders, arms, and core muscles strong. Play sports or lift weights. Pay extra attention to the back of your body, which tends to be weaker than your front.
3. Take breaks. Hobbies and professions like tennis and house painting can increase your risk for rotator cuff injuries because they involve frequent overhead movements. If you can stop what you’re doing for a while as soon as you notice any discomfort you may keep damage from accumulating.
4. Push heavy loads. Pulling strains your shoulders more than pushing. If you’re a frequent traveler, try to keep your wheeled luggage as light as possible.
5. Quit smoking. Using tobacco decreases your circulation, which carries oxygen and nutrients around your body. Healthier joints are one more reason to give up cigarettes.
Rotator cuff injuries can cause pain and disability. Talk with your doctor about your options and protect your shoulders with lifestyle habits like staying active and watching your posture.