By Dr. David Geier
Rotator cuff injuries represent a spectrum of conditions that can vary in severity from impingement of the tendons to a partial-thickness tear to full-thickness rotator cuff tear. These are some of the common signs and symptoms you might experience with a rotator cuff tear or impingement.
Pain when you reach overhead.
A rotator cuff injury can cause pain with most activities, but typically they cause pain in certain positions. Frequently a patient complains of pain with overhead activities. Examples include pain when you reach into cabinets or lift your arm to comb your hair.
Pain when you reach away from your body.
Like reaching overhead, you might specifically notice pain reaching out away from your body, especially at or above shoulder level. A common example would be pain you feel as you lift a carton of milk out of the refrigerator.
Pain when you reach behind the back.
A rotator cuff injury often causes problems when you try to reach behind your back. Often the problem is pain in addition to loss of motion. You might notice pain specifically when tucking in your shirt or fastening your bra strap.
You have limited range of shoulder motion.
A patient might notice loss of shoulder motion even before the shoulder becomes painful. Often you notice decreased motion in certain directions. For example, you might notice difficulty reaching behind your back, such as tucking in a shirt, caused by loss of shoulder internal rotation. Difficulty getting the arm above shoulder level can develop as well.
You have shoulder pain at night.
Night pain in your shoulder and upper arm is not unique to rotator cuff injuries, and not every patient with a rotator cuff disorder experiences night pain. However, it is a common reason patients say that they finally decide to see a physician, even if they have had shoulder problems for months. Often the pain increases late at night, prevents you from falling asleep or wakes you up frequently.
This list is not comprehensive by any means. You can have only one or a few of these symptoms with a rotator cuff injury. If these or other shoulder complaints are limiting you with exercise, work or daily activities, you could consider seeing an orthopedic surgeon.
Dr. Geier is an orthopaedic surgeon at Sports Medicine Specialists of Charleston and the Medical Director of East Cooper Sports Medicine. To learn more about Dr. Geier’s practice, you can visit his website at www.sportsmedspecialists.com.