Shoulder pain and rotator cuff disorders

What are rotator cuff disorders?
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles surrounding the shoulder that allow for a high amount of mobility and strength that sports require. Injury to one or more of these tendons disrupts movement or weakens the area, affecting performance and potentially causing significant pain. Common symptoms include:

  • Weakness in arm or pain while throwing
  • Pain/swelling in shoulder or down the outside of arm
  • Pain with overhead use
  • Pain while sleeping on shoulder or applying pressure

Who gets it?
Athletes who play sports that require overhead movement and throwing experience the highest number of rotator cuff injuries. Pitchers, swimmers, tennis players and volleyball players are at highest risk.

What are the causes?
Many possible factors lead to rotator cuff problems. Overuse with throwing or overhead activity are the most common causes. Other causes include weakness around the shoulder and shoulder blade, falling on an outstretched arm, or landing on the shoulder. Athletes with a weak trunk or core may compensate by placing extra stress on the rotator cuff muscles. Variations in an athlete’s anatomy may also be a contributing factor.

How do I treat it?
Start with rest and ice. Avoid painful motions and ice the shoulder for 10 minutes every couple hours to help with pain and swelling. Slowly return to overhead activity and avoiding throwing until you are pain-free. Trying to continue your sport and throw through the pain will lead to increased pain and poor movement patterns, among other problems.

If symptoms continue after one week, visit a sports physical therapist. He or she can evaluate your condition, discuss your level of activity and goals, and prescribe an individualized treatment plan. The sooner you seek treatment, the faster you will be on the road to recovery.