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Have an Overworked Shoulder or Rotator Cuff?

The ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder is susceptible to injury from throwing, such as those sustained in baseball, volleyball and tennis. With baseball season winding down in Alaska, it might be time to consider an evaluation of that nagging shoulder pain. Shoulder injuries can also include rotator cuff tears. Here’s the basics on overworked shoulders and rotator cuff problems, courtesy of the Orthopedic Research Clinic of Alaska.

Shoulder anatomy

The three bones of the shoulder – humerus, scapula (shoulder blade) and collarbone – are held in place and supported by muscles, connective tissue, tendons and ligaments. Four of these muscles running up the shoulder blade to the head of the humerus are called the rotator cuff. The head of the humerus fits into a socket (the glenoid) and is stabilized by additional muscles. Repeated throwing at high speed places significant stress on all of the structures in the shoulder and can eventually result in injury. Shoulder injuries that are not treated can lead to further damage and even permanent disability.

Shoulder Injuries

Overuse injuries are often the first of possible problems that occur in the shoulder. As the term implies, these occur because of doing too much or placing too much stress on the shoulder, as when pitching or lifting. Inflammation and pain are often the first sign of overuse. If ligaments or tendons become weakened, other structures must take up the strain, increasing the risk of further injury. Muscles, ligaments and tendons can tear, causing significant pain and disability. Rotator cuff tears often begin with fraying of the tendons, eventually leading to a partial or complete tear.

Treatment for the Overworked Shoulder

As you might expect, an overworked shoulder must first be rested. Ice or heat, anti-inflammatory medications and gentle physical therapy may be helpful if the injury is minor or in the early stages. Changing position when throwing may help reduce pain but can affect throwing accuracy and force. Cortisone injections are another possibility but may not provide a permanent solution. When pain persists, X-rays, imaging studies and ultrasound can help identify the source of the problem. If surgery is required, the operation can usually be performed on an outpatient basis with an arthroscope, using a special camera to see and work inside the body.

Persistent pain or weakness in the shoulder are signs of overuse and may indicate a rotator cuff tear. If you have this kind of problem, please call us to schedule an appointment. We can assess the situation and make a recommendation for treatment.


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