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Shoulder care: Rotator cuff injuries don’t always require surgery to heal

By: Ron Hollis, Colorado Springs Orthopaedic Group
April 12, 2016 Updated: April 12, 2016 at 12:56 pm
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Man With A Shoulder Ache

Pulse is a quarterly Gazette medical publication that highlights the survivors, volunteers and physicians who make our city a strong and healthy place to live.

Shoulder discomfort, particularly when it stems from the rotator cuff, can be a frustrating source of pain for many people.

The rotator cuff is comprised of a dynamic group of four muscles that help initiate and stabilize the shoulder during motion, thus undergoing stress during the course of normal daily activity. Rotator cuff problems span a variety of issues from inflammation of the tendon (tendonitis or bursitis) to a complete tear of the tendon from the bone (rotator cuff tears).

While diagnosing the issue on your own can be difficult, the signs and symptoms associated with rotator cuff injury are classic. Pain, located primarily in the front or side of the shoulder that frequently radiates down the side of the upper arm, is the most common symptom. Pain often occurs with raising the arm or reaching overhead.

A rotator cuff injury cannot always be attributed to a specific event. Rather, an injury frequently presents with a slow progression of symptoms over time. Weakness, or inability to raise the arm, often presents with rotator cuff tears, along with trouble sleeping.

Treatment options for rotator cuff injuries vary with severity of the issue. More often than not, surgery is not required. Often, injuries can be treated with non-operative methods like anti-inflammatory medicines, occasional cortisone injections and physical therapy. Reducing inflammation in the shoulder while building up strength of the rotator cuff muscles with specific exercises typically reduces shoulder pain.

At times, surgery is required to treat rotator cuff injuries, especially if the tendon has torn away from its attachment site. Reliable studies have shown that a rotator cuff tendon torn away from bone does not have the ability to heal itself and the tear can persist. This can lead to long-term pain and functional loss as well as inhibit later attempts at surgical repair. Surgical techniques continue to evolve, and often the repair of the rotator cuff can be accomplished through a minimally invasive approach using three small band-aid size incisions. Surgery is often done on an outpatient basis with the patient going home the same day as the procedure.

As with most health issues, prevention is the key. For good shoulder health, maintain a consistent well-rounded shoulder exercise program that focuses on stretching of the shoulder to maintain flexibility and a low weight rotator cuff strengthening program for joint stability and conditioning. Following this regime will not only help you stay out of the doctor’s office, but will also allow you to continue to enjoy the natural beauty and endless activities that Colorado has to offer.

 

Dr. Ron Hollis is a fellowship trained orthopaedic surgeon with Colorado Springs Orthopaedic Group. He is a team physician for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, University of Colorado Colorado Springs as well as Coronado High School. For more information, visit csog.net or call 632-7669.

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