What is rotator cuff impingement?
The rotator cuff is a set of four muscles and tendons that help to control your arm in space. They are particularly important to shoulder strength and stability when the arm is above the head or away from the body. In some cases, there is a small bone spur that touches the rotator cuff when the arm is lifted, causing pain known as impingement and abrasion of the tendon tissue. There is a spectrum of conditions that can occur within the rotator cuff, from tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon) to partial tearing (fraying of the tendon) to full tearing (failure of the tendon fibers).
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What symptoms does it cause?
The most common symptoms of rotator cuff disease are pain and weakness. Pain is often felt at the front, top or side of the shoulder and along the deltoid muscle. Pain is also more common with lifting (such as placing something on a high shelf) or at night. People with rotator cuff tears can also have weakness when lifting the arm.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis is generally made through discussion with your doctor and thorough examination. Some patients will need an MRI when a full tear is suspected. X-rays are also taken in some patients with suspected rotator cuff disease to identify bone spurs and to rule out other conditions, such as arthritis.
How is it treated?
Treatment of rotator cuff disease is dependent on its severity. In most cases, nonsurgical treatment including activity modification, physical therapy or home exercises for strengthening, medication, or injections are successful. However, when a full tear of the tendon is present, surgery is often needed to repair the torn tendon and restore strength to the shoulder. There have been numerous advances in rotator cuff surgery in the past decade and most rotator cuff repairs can now be done arthroscopically. This is a minimally invasive surgical technique that minimizes postoperative pain and allows the surgery to be done as an outpatient procedure. Your sports medicine physician can help you to make the correct diagnosis and design an individualized treatment plan.