A rotator cuff is a hard worker. It’s made up of the muscle and tendons in your shoulder and connects your upper arm bone with your shoulder blade.
Accord to the Mayo Clinic, the anatomy of a rotator cuff results in the largest range of motion attributed to any of your joints.
While rotator cuff injuries are linked to a number of events, they all have one thing in common: they can be very painful. Many of these injuries – which can occur from normal wear and tear due to age as well as from specific events – eventually heal from self-care or from physical therapy. However, for many years, patients dreaded this type of injury because surgery to repair the joint was such a common and uncomfortable solution.
Historically, rotator cuff injuries have been treated most frequently by orthopedic surgeons. Patients today have many non-surgical treatment options available, such as:
1. Steroid injections. In order to relieve severe or prolonged pain, some doctors will inject the joint with a corticosteroid injection.
2. Shoulder rest. You can simply stop doing whatever was the culprit that resulted in the injury, aside from age. Try to steer clear of any painful movements and avoid any heavy lifting or overhead motions for four to seven days until the discomfort lessens.
3. Use ice and heat. Ice on your shoulder can cut inflammation and pain. You don’t even need a cold pack. A bag of frozen vegetables or a towel with ice cubes works fine. Apply the cold for 15 to 20 minutes per session every few hours for the first day or two. When you notice some improvement, switch to hot packs or a heating pad to help sore, tight muscles relax. However, don’t use heat for more than 20 minutes at a time.
4. Take pain relievers. A variety of over-the-counter drugs can help relieve rotator cuff pain. Just be sure to follow the directions on the bottle and stop taking the drug when the pain lessens. Drugs that have proven helpful include aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) and acetaminophen (Tylenol).
5. Keep muscles loose. You need to keep your shoulder muscles limber. After a day or two, start some gentle exercises. Avoiding activity altogether can make your joints stiffen. Once the injury has healed, you should continue to exercise, using daily shoulder stretches and a balanced shoulder-strengthening program to help prevent another rotator cuff injury.
6. Try Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy. This is the newest treatment for rotator cuff problems. According to Mayo Friedlis, MD (YourHEALTH Magazine, September 2009), Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP) helps your body heal naturally from musculoskeletal injuries. Unlike corticosteroids injections, which offer just temporary relief, PRP addresses the actual damage to the rotator cuff. Using the patient’s own blood platelets, which contain several types of growth factors that aid healing, a doctor can perform the therapy in his or her office. Collecting the patient’s blood, concentrating the platelets and then re-injecting them at the site of the injury normally takes about an hour. Many patients, Friedlis reports, experience improvement within two to four weeks after the first treatment. PRP can also be used to treat moderate arthritis found in the knee, hip, spine and shoulder.