The rotator cuff is comprised of muscles and tendons that connect them to bones in the shoulder area. Issues with the rotator cuff develop abruptly due to injuries or gradually over time. If there is damage to one or several parts of the rotator cuff, it can trigger pain, weakness, diminished mobility or a clicking sensation in the shoulder.
Always bear in mind that shoulder pain is the initial sign of a rotator cuff issue and tends to vary depending on the cause. When it comes to traumatic injuries, they cause abrupt, piercing pain.
Overuse of the rotator cuff muscles causes damage that becomes worse over time. This is quite common in sports or activities that require constant overhead reaching especially when lifting heavy objects. The movement compresses the tendons that connect to the rotator cuff muscles.
The pain from overuse feels similar to a deep ache that becomes worse at night time especially if the individual frequently reaches overhead throughout the day. The pain can spread to the side of the upper arm and affect sleep especially if accustomed to lying on the sore side.
Damage to the area can also lead to weakness especially when reaching overhead. When lifting the arm out to the sides, the shoulder is hiked up toward the ear. This is an attempt of the body to utilize other muscles. This is noticed when attempting to brush the hair or reaching into a cabinet.
There is also weakness when rotating the arm away from or towards the body. The weakness makes it hard to engage in various activities such as tucking in a shirt into pants or maneuvering a steering wheel.
As a ball-and-socket joint, the shoulder keeps the bones that meet in the shoulder in their proper positions. Diminished level of mobility is a usual symptom of rotator cuff issues.
The individual could not lift the arm out to the sides as well as rotate the arm outwards or reaching behind the back. In most cases, movement is usually limited due to the pain especially with rotator cuff issues that develop gradually. In severe injuries such as a tendon tear, it is impossible to move the arm in a particular direction.
What are the other symptoms?
Rotator cuff issues can oftentimes trigger a clicking sensation in the shoulder, especially during certain movements such as lifting the arm to the sides, reaching behind the back or rotating the arm away from the body. There is also a cracking or crunching sensation that can be heard which occurs once the injured tendons are rubbing against the bones in the shoulder joint.
When to seek care
A doctor should be consulted if there are symptoms that might indicate damage or if the shoulder pain persists for more than a few days especially if it disrupts with daily life.
The issues that develop over time can heal with medications and physical therapy. If the injury is due to trauma, it is vital to seek immediate medical care.