A rotator cuff injury is never pleasant. It will cause pain, weakness and may severely limit your shoulder’s range of motion. Toward the back of the shoulder is the supraspinatus tendon and muscle. The supraspinatus is one of the most common locations for tears or ruptures of the tendon, as well as tendonitis.
The shoulder is a complex joint. Inside the rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons connect the upper arm bone, the shoulder blade and the collarbone, which allow us to raise and rotate our arms.
Any shoulder injuries, like a supraspinatus tear or even a rotator cuff tear are likely to worsen without treatment, similar to shoulder tendonitis.
To understand the importance of the rotator cuff, consider that it is what keeps the arm in the shoulder.
Injury or pain in this area is extremely problematic, not just for athletes, but for anyone trying go about their day-to-day activities. From throwing a football to putting on a shirt, or even just combing your hair, proper shoulder function affects a near endless list of regular movements we make each day.
What Are the Causes of Injury to the Rotator Cuff and Supraspinatus Tendon?
The two biggest reasons for shoulder injury are trauma and degeneration of the tendons from aging, overuse, and repetitive movements.
Trauma to the supraspinatus tendon, as well as the shoulder and upper arm, can come from accidents like tying to break a fall with outstretched arms.
Acute tears can also occur from using poor form when lifting or pulling on something heavy.
Rotator cuff tendonitis and supraspinatus tendonitis are caused when the tendons become inflamed or frayed as a result of friction and degeneration. If the condition is not properly treated in the early stages, it can become worse and lead to supraspinatus tendinosis.
Common Reasons for Supraspinatus Tendonitis and Rotator Cuff Tears Include:
1. Repetitive Movement of the Supraspinatus and Rotator Cuff
A repetitive movement can include sports-related movements, like in weightlifting, tennis, swimming, baseball, or other sports that require the same repeated motions over and over.
Repetitive movements might also be job-related motions common in construction occupations or stocking inventory shelves in retail environments.
2. Bone Spurs in the Shoulder
Bone spurs, which are bony projections that can develop along the edges of the bone, can sometimes create friction that leads to pain, inflammation, and actual rotator cuff tears in the tendons.
3. Poor Circulation
Poor circulation is yet another issue that can lead to a shoulder injury because a lack of blood flow decreases the body’s ability to reduce inflammation and heal injured or fraying soft tissue.
Unfortunately, there’s no way around aging and people over 40 years old are more prone to supraspinatus injury, as well as rotator cuff injury. This is because with age there’s simply natural wear and tear on the shoulder and, in some cases, poor blood circulation.
What are the Symptoms of Rotator Cuff and Supraspinatus Tendon Injuries?
Supraspinatus tendonitis and rotator cuff tears can be difficult to diagnose without a full examination because there are other conditions, such as arthritis or bone spurs, that can cause similar types of pain and discomfort.
Most physicians are likely to suggest x-rays, ultrasound or an MRI as a way to get a good look at both bone structure and the surrounding tendons and muscles.
The symptoms of tendonitis or tears in the rotator cuff and supraspinatus can include some of the following:
- Pain and discomfort when attempting to raise or lower your arm
- Weakness in the shoulder, especially when raising the arm
- Severe to moderate range of motion problems
- Cracking or grinding sensation in the shoulder that comes with particular motions
- Pain and discomfort even at rest or during the night, especially if you sleep on the injured shoulder
Seeing a doctor or a sports physician is recommended, particularly if the pain continues to worsen or immediately returns with activity.
Supraspinatus Muscle and Rotator Cuff Tendonitis Treatment
With soft tissue injuries in the shoulder to the supraspinatus tendon or rotator cuff, it’s important to rest. Obviously, this is easier said than done if what is causing pain and discomfort happens to be part of your job, like in construction or in sports.
Common Treatments for Shoulder and Supraspinatus Muscle Injuries include:
Resting the shoulder and upper arm is necessary at the first sign of pain from an injury. Activities that cause pain should definitely be avoided to allow time for inflammation to go down and the injured area to heal.
Ice should be applied to the affected area in 20-minute intervals several times a day to reduce inflammation and the resulting pain from the injury.
3. Anti-Inflammatory Medication
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Midol, Aleve) can help reduce inflammation as well as pain.
4. EPAT Therapy Treatment
EPAT Therapy Treatment is a non-invasive, regenerative treatment that uses impulse pressure waves for deep muscle stimulation to increase blood flow, reduce inflammation, and speed up healing.
While EPAT Treatment is great while resting the injured shoulder, it is also an excellent option for athletes or workers who need to continue training or working at the same high levels as before the injury.
Many NFL and NBA teams and players now use EPAT Therapy for rotator cuff and shoulder issues, in addition to many other types of injuries to expedite recovery times.
5. Kinesiology Tape (KT Tape) or Shoulder Sling
Kinesiology Tape, also called KT Tape, is a sturdy adhesive strip of tape that can be used to keep the shoulder stable and possibly reduce pain. KT Tape works well during a period of physical therapy or when returning to normal activities after healing.
An immobilizing shoulder sling can also be used to keep the shoulder stable and cut down on motion during a period of rest and activity modification.
If shoulder pain persists, physicians will usually consider other treatments that can include:
6. Physical Therapy
During and after the healing process, physical therapy usually includes learning and practicing rotator cuff exercises to improve flexibility and strength to the upper arm and shoulder.
7. Corticosteroid Injection
A cortisone steroid injection is an option if pain persists. This can be done in a doctor’s office to help reduce inflammation and pain if other treatments fail to show progress.
Steroid injections aren’t as popular as they once were because repeated injections can increase joint deterioration, so they should only be used two or three times as needed.
8. Rotator Cuff Surgery
Rotator cuff surgery might be necessary in severe ruptures of the supraspinatus tendon or rotator cuff. This might mean reattaching the tendon to the bone, or with extreme trauma, shoulder joint replacement surgery.
Avoiding Rotator Cuff Surgery
Rotator cuff tendinitis and supraspinatus tendon and muscle tears are some of the most common shoulder injuries among athletes and people who perform repetitive motions at work.
These types of injuries become more prevalent as we age, so it’s necessary to slow down and give the shoulder time to rest and heal if pain is noticeable or trauma occurs.
Many of the treatment methods outlined here work especially well before the injury progresses and should allow a person to return to a regular routine in a short time without the need for surgery.
If surgery is required, depending on the type, it could entail a much longer recovery time of six months to a year before returning to sports or full work duties.
Understanding this should provide the motivation to seek medical treatment at the earliest signs of a rotator cuff or shoulder injury.