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Millions of people suffer from shoulder pain and injuries, along with the pain and stiffness those injuries cause. Even a “mild” shoulder issue can interfere with many simple activities, like brushing your hair, lifting an object, or reaching over your head.

Rotator cuff injuries are a common cause of shoulder pain and decreased range of movement in the joint, affecting about 2 million Americans every year. As a top-ranked orthopedics specialist in McKinney, Texas, Dominique Nickson, MD, and his team treat rotator cuff injuries in patients at Next Step Orthopedics, using conservative and surgical approaches tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Here’s how to tell if a rotator cuff problem could cause your shoulder pain.

Rotator cuff anatomy 101

Your shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint that forms where the upper arm bone meets your shoulder blade and collarbone. The rounded top (or head) or your arm bone fits snugly into a bowl-shaped socket in your shoulder blade bone.

The rotator cuff is a network of muscles and tendons surrounding the ball part of the joint and attaching it to the shoulder blade, holding the ball and socket together while also supporting normal shoulder movement. When the rotator cuff is damaged (or torn), it compromises the joint’s movement and causes considerable pain.

The rotator cuff is cushioned by a small sac of fluid called a bursa that helps the rotator cuff move smoothly. When the rotator cuff is damaged, the bursa can become inflamed and painful.

Types of tears

Rotator cuff tears can be partial or full. In a partial tear, the tendon is damaged but not completely “cut” or torn away. In a full tear, the tendon is torn through and separated from the bone. Full tears are also called full-thickness tears or complete tears.

How your rotator cuff gets injured

Many rotator cuff tears happen over time due to wear and tear inside the shoulder joint. These are called degenerative injuries, and they tend to happen more often among people who do a lot of lifting, reaching over their heads, or other activities that put a lot of stress and strain on the shoulder joint.

Over time, repetitive stress causes tiny tears in the muscles and tendons, resulting in fraying and weakness, making partial and complete tears more likely. Bone spurs and loss of circulation also happen with age, and both of these problems contribute to degenerative tears.

The rotator cuff can also be torn by a traumatic injury, typically a fall on an outstretched arm. Often, these injuries occur alongside other injuries, like a shoulder dislocation or a broken collarbone.

Symptoms of rotator cuff problems

Rotator cuff problems cause specific symptoms that can aid in diagnosis. The most common symptoms include:

  • Pain or aching deep in the shoulder joint
  • Shoulder pain that interferes with sleep
  • Increased pain when lying on your shoulder
  • Pain or weakness when lifting or rotating your arm
  • “Crunching” noises when moving your shoulder

Acute tears from injuries may be accompanied by a “snapping” noise and intense, focused pain.

Relieve your shoulder pain

Rotator cuff pain can be intense, but these injuries aren’t the only cause of shoulder pain. Scheduling an evaluation at our office is the best way to determine what’s causing your symptoms to get the right treatment for fast relief.

Dr. Nickson is a leading provider of advanced shoulder treatments in McKinney, Texas. Offering both conservative and surgical treatment options, he focuses on providing individualized, patient-centered care based on each patient’s unique anatomy, underlying condition, and lifestyle goals, among other factors.

If you have shoulder pain or stiffness, putting off treatment can result in more serious damage to your joint. Don’t delay your care: call us at (972) 547-0047 or book an appointment online online or over the phone and learn how Dr. Nickson and the team at Next Step Orthopedics can help.

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