Baseball pitchers throw with such speed and torque, that it doesn’t take long before they end up with the inevitable rotator cuff injury. And that makes sense, because every time they hurl the horsehide, they stress the inner workings of their shoulder — the rotator cuff — and create constant tears and frayed edges on the tendons until it can longer function.
Our experts at MidJersey Orthopaedics treat athletes and non-athletes alike who suffer from damaged rotator cuffs. This injury is so common, that about two million people suffer from it every year.
We can rattle off lots of ways it could happen to you, like painting your house, changing a light bulb, or loading boxes on a high shelf, but we’d rather tell you about how to avoid a rotator cuff injury in the first place. Here are some of the top strategies.
The best way to protect the small muscles, tendons, and ligaments that make up your rotator cuff is to work them out. Most people think about the larger muscle groups when they lift weights: hamstrings, biceps, quadriceps, and abs. But the inner muscles of your rotator cuff need attention, too.
We can advise you about the best way to engage these hard-to-reach muscles to keep them strong and healthy. But complete protection relies on balance and symmetry. The larger outer muscles must be strengthened as well to fortify the entire group.
It’s unrealistic to avoid reaching up over your head 100% of the time, but there are certain circumstances you can and should avoid if at all possible.
When retrieving something heavy from an upper shelf, use a step stool or ladder, or ask for help to distribute the weight. If you must paint your ceiling, consider hiring a professional or using a sprayer. If you decide to play tennis on the weekend, make sure you warm up well and don’t overexert yourself.
Of course, if your muscles are toned and strong, they can withstand these overhead activities without much damage. But if you’re unaccustomed to the movement, that’s when you risk a rotator cuff impingement or tear.
Take a break
As we mentioned, you can’t go through life without ever reaching up, but when you do, especially if it’s repetitive or over a long period of time, it’s best to take a break and let your shoulders rest intermittently.
The aches and pains you’re bound to feel after a bout of overhead reaching may be simple fatigue or the first signs of an injury. Simple tasks like putting on or taking off your shirt can alert you to a potential rotator cuff problem. With time, a minor injury can heal on its own, but if you keep up the activity, you’re bound to exacerbate the problem and end up with a serious condition.
What to do when your shoulder hurts
At the first signs of pain and stiffness, stop using your shoulder immediately. Again, if the injury is mild, often the most conservative efforts are all you need to heal the tissues. The RICE method (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) should be your first course of action. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medications, like ibuprofen, can help as well.
Not all shoulder pain means you have a serious rotator cuff injury. You may have inflammation (tendinitis), a compressed nerve, or an actual tear.
We can accurately diagnose your injury and get you started on the right treatment. If you have shoulder pain and suspect a rotator cuff injury, contact us to schedule an appointment.