Your shoulder has the greatest range of motion of any joint in your body and your rotator cuff is the single connection between your upper arm your shoulder blade. This key group of muscles and ligaments works hard to keep your shoulder socket in place and gives you great mobility, but is prone to injury.
Wear and tear or a sudden fall, stretch or lift are all common causes of rotator cuff injuries and when this injury happens, even simple activities or sleeping become painful.
Causes of Rotator Cuff Injury
Rotator cuff injuries are often due to repeated overhead motions that you may perform in your job or during sports, so it’s often seen in painters, carpenters, and people who play baseball or tennis.
The risk of rotator cuff injury also increases with age. Other causes are:
- Normal wear and tear of daily life
- Poor posture or slouching
- A sudden fall (and using our arms to break the fall)
- Lifting a too-heavy object or lifting improperly
- Pulling something heavy
- Repetitive arm activities, especially those done overhead, that cause stress to the shoulder
The injury is fairly common and can involve any type of irritation or damage to the rotator cuff muscles or tendons.
Types of Rotator Cuff Injuries
The most common types of rotator cuff injuries are tendinitis, bursitis and muscle or tendon strain or tear.
Tendinitis: one of the rotator cuff tendons becomes inflamed due to overuse or overload, tendinitis is common in athletes.
Bursitis: the fluid-filled sac (bursa) between the shoulder joint and rotator cuff tendons become irritated and inflamed.
Muscle or tendon strain or tear: this can happen with a tendinitis issue is left untreated, or with muscle or tendon stress from overuse.
Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Injuries
Pain is the most common symptom of rotator cuff injuries, and may be experienced when reaching overhead, behind the back, lifting, pulling, or sleeping on the affected shoulder. A severe injury, such as a large tear may cause continuous pain and muscle weakness.
Other symptoms of rotator cuff injuries include:
- Shoulder pain, especially a dull, achy pain deep in the shoulder
- Shoulder tenderness and weakness
- Loss of shoulder range of motion; difficulty reaching overhead or behind your back
- A tendency to keep the shoulder inactive
Treatment for Rotator Cuff Injury
Widely acknowledged and accessible treatment for rotator cuff injuries typically involves rest and ice to reduce inflammation, over the counter pain medication, gentle stretching and sometimes physiotherapy to restore flexibility and develop muscle strength. In more severe or chronic cases, treatment may involve corticosteroid injections and even surgery.
Depending on the severity of the injury, full recovery may take from several weeks to several months. About half of the time, a rotator cuff injury can heal with self-care measures or exercise therapy.
Acupuncture for Rotator Cuff Injuries
Acupuncture can be very effective in dealing with rotator cuff injuries by healing the injury and improving flexibility and strength.
Rotator cuff injuries involve an obstruction of the flow of energy and blood to the shoulder. This starves the tissues of nourishment and leads to pain and weakness. Acupuncture restores proper circulation to the shoulder, allowing it to receive the nourishment it needs for healthy functioning.
Common outcomes of acupuncture on rotator cuff injuries are:
- Reduced pain
- Reduced inflammation that may be restricting movement of the shoulder
- Relief of muscle tension and increase circulation to the area
- Improvement underlying weaknesses of the tissues and joint to prevent future re-injury of the shoulder
- Speedier recovery and a bolstering of the body’s self-healing mechanisms
Acupuncture is an excellent option in the treatment of rotator cuff injuries, as it can complement conventional treatment and can reduce the length of recovery time. Acupuncture also helps the body to function better, helping to strengthen the shoulder and promote its proper functioning. By promoting better shoulder health, you can help to prevent a repeat injury or pain problem in the future.
James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist specializing in pain, sports injuries, and musculoskeletal conditions at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, downtown Kelowna.