Whether it started out as an ache, an inconvenient but painful twinge or an accident, rotator cuff injuries can keep you from work and from participating in activities you enjoy. In fact, after suffering such an injury, you may never again take for granted the fact that you can lift your arm over your head. A task as simple as washing your hair or waving to someone could elude you for quite some time.
The pain associated with such an injury does not have to be intense to indicate a severe injury. However, in many cases, the pain can be excruciating. Any attempt to lift your arm may bring you to tears, and it could go on for weeks or months. In other cases, you may feel no pain and not understand why you have trouble lifting your arm or holding objects.
Types of rotator cuff injuries
Not all rotator cuff injuries are alike, but they tend to fall into one of the following three categories:
- In a rotator cuff tear, the tendon tears away from the bone in your arm. It could result from extended overuse or some trauma to your shoulder such as a fall or blow directly to it.
- If you engage in activities that require you to repeatedly lift your arm over your head, you could suffer from tendinitis. Many industries require workers to raise their arms over their heads often, and this injury may begin as an aching pain that grows into a more painful one.
- After years of repetitive overhead activity at work, you could suffer from tendinosis. This condition often occurs due to the degeneration of the tendon over time, so as you age and perform the same motions, the injury develops.
Most people don't realize the damage done to their rotator cuffs. In some cases, a full recovery is possible, but there may always be isolated instances in which reaching overhead could be problematic.
Recognizing there's a problem
As mentioned above, you may not realize that you are developing a rotator cuff issue until you can no longer use your arm properly and the pain reaches a certain level. It would benefit you to address any aches or pains in your shoulder and arm before it reaches this point, if possible. Your body may give you the following clues that you may have an injury to your rotator cuff:
- You experience throbbing pain at night in the affected arm or shoulder.
- You experience aching or sharp pain in the upper arm or shoulder.
- You have difficulty performing tasks that require lifting the arm overhead.
- You notice a loss of strength in the affected arm.
- You feel pain in the lower part of your arm.
- The pain in your shoulder or arm just won't go away.
Of course, if you can't lift your arm over your head, that would be a good indication that something is wrong. If the injury happened at work, you could receive workers' compensation benefits to cover your medical care and the time that you will not be able to work as you recover, along with other benefits, depending on your circumstances.