In your excitement to bulk up, you might forget that your body, as well designed as it is, also needs time to rest. Doing repeated overhead shoulder movements like lifting weights can put you at risk of rotator cuff injuries.
The rotator cuff is composed of muscles and tendons which function to provide stability and strength to your shoulder joint. They are located around the head of the humerus (upper arm bone). This rotator cuff makes it easy for you to rotate your shoulder, however, it is also prone to painful injuries especially when there are tears or strains in the muscle or tendon.
The Nature of Rotator Cuff Injury (RCI)
Injury, such as a tear, to the tendons and muscles in the shoulder area happen for a variety of reasons such as gradual wear and tear due to aging, acute injury, and inflammation caused by frequent overuse injuries. Some tears present no symptoms and are relatively painless while severe cases might require surgery to fix the tear. The rotator cuff of your dominant hand is more commonly affected since it is the one you tend to use more frequently when doing tasks that require physical strength.
Fortunately, most patients who suffered from RCI fully recover with the help of physical therapy exercises. If there’s no medical intervention, however, a minor strain or tear can eventually lead to a full on rupture.
What are the common causes of RCI?
- Repetitive trauma due to daily overhead movement like lifting heavy objects several times a day.
- Presence of bone spurs in the shoulder area, causing tendon irritation.
- Progressive wear and tear of the tendon.
What are the signs and symptoms of RCI?
Take note that mild injuries to the rotator cuff are asymptomatic, which means that you can’t necessarily feel any difference in your shoulder at all, especially at the early stage. If symptomatic, RCI is often characterized by:
- Pain in the affected shoulder that is aggravated by overhead arm movements like lifting the arm to get items from the cupboard.
- Pain that gradually builds up. It starts mildly and may go away with analgesics. Over time, however, it may persist even during rest and will no longer respond to over-the-counter pain relievers.
- Shoulder pain that gets worse at night.
- A clicking sensation when rotating the shoulder.
- A ‘locking’ feeling in the affected shoulder.
- Limited range of motion.
- Numbness and tingling sensation.
- Pain when the shoulder bears weight such as when lying on the affected side.
- Inability to raise the arm away from the body (arm abduction) because of muscle power loss.
How to Manage RCI at Home?
- Limit the overhead movements of your shoulder and rest the affected area as much as possible.
- Wear a shoulder brace to slightly immobilize the affected shoulder, provide comfort, and relieve pain.
- If you’re not comfortable with a shoulder brace, you can wear an arm sling instead to support the weight of your arm and allow your injured shoulder to rest.
- With a doctor’s recommendation, perform shoulder exercises to help strengthen and rehabilitate your shoulders and improve your mobility. You may need a few sessions with a physical therapist before you can continue the exercise at home.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers to help ease the pain and swelling.
- If the onset of shoulder pain is abrupt, or acute, apply a cold compress on the affected area to minimize swelling and numb the pain.
- If the onset is gradual, apply a warm compress on the affected shoulder to increase the blood supply to the area and facilitate a faster healing process.
- Eat foods that are rich in protein. Aside from being a building block of your muscles, bones, and connective tissues, your body also utilizes protein to repair and rebuild damaged cells.
Rotator cuff injuries aren’t always easy to diagnose because the tear is not visible on the skin. When you experience unexplained shoulder pain, it’s best to seek medical advice. To identify the severity of the injury, you will have to undergo radiological imaging studies such as an X-ray, an MRI, or an ultrasound. The degree of your injury determines the necessary treatment and rehabilitation.