Don’t shrug off shoulder pain
Summer is the perfect time to get outside and be active. Whether you are biking, running or playing sports like tennis and volleyball, you may likely be using some muscles not normally used in the off-season.
Experts say abruptly waking up these dormant muscles can lead to both bone and muscle injuries.
More than 1.5 million people in the U.S. seek medical treatment every year for shoulder problems that land them in the operating room, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
“If you experience pain with reaching, carrying or lifting, you should see an orthopedic specialist,” says Dr. Steven Chudik, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “Seeking medical attention early is the key to getting the proper treatment and the best result.”
Sometimes more often recognized as swimmer’s shoulder, pitcher’s shoulder or tennis shoulder, a rotator cuff injury can be caused during sport-related activities or result from a fall, Dr. Chudik says. However, natural degeneration with age and wear and tear can also play a role. If you are in your 50s or 60s and suffer a fall or lift something awkwardly, you may be at greater risk for a shoulder injury, he says.
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that stabilize your shoulder joint and arm any time you lift, carry or reach away from your body. The AAOS reports that rotator cuff injuries are among the most common of shoulder problems. These injuries can be partial or complete; a partial thickness tear is when the tendon is only partially separated from the upper arm bone and a complete thickness tear is when the tendon completely detaches from the attachment site. Both tears tend to progress over time, with partial tears becoming full-thickness tears and full-thickness tears becoming larger, he says.
Dr. Chuik says the tear may be felt as a sudden pop or tearing sensation with immediate pain and discomfort.
“People can often experience more subtle signs of a rotator cuff injury as well and often carry a false sense of security because they may still be able to raise the arm without difficulty, only some minor pain,” he says.
Unfortunately, Dr. Chuik says that rotator cuff tears cannot simply heal with a little rest and relaxation.
“Reattaching the torn rotator cuff tendon to the bone requires surgery to repair the rotator cuff, followed by a lengthy recovery time to regain function of the shoulder,” he says.
The procedure to repair a torn rotator cuff is traditionally performed with a large open incision, but Dr. Chudik and most other shoulder specialists prefer a less invasive technique called arthroscopic rotator cuff repair.
With this procedure, orthopedic specialists make a few small incisions and use a camera and small instruments to see and maneuver around the shoulder. This way, the surgeon is able to repair the torn rotator cuff without cutting through other muscles and tendons. Physical therapy following surgery is critical to a full recovery.
“Surgery is just the first step. Allowing the shoulder to heal and participating in physical therapy is necessary to regain function,” says Dr. Chudik.
If you plan on diving into new activities this summer, take the time to learn proper form and gradually build your strength, he says. It is easy to get hurt if you engage in an activity without being conditioned.
“Gradually increasing the intensity, frequency and duration of an activity is the best way to achieve your goals,” Dr. Chudik says, “as well as minimize the likelihood of injuries.”
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