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What is a rotator cuff injury?

A rotator cuff injury is a common cause of shoulder pain.

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons located around the shoulder joint. They work together as a unit to keep your shoulder joint in place and to help with movement.

The tendons and muscles can become inflamed, sometimes because of an injury, or it may be down to repetitive movements (more common in older people), causing a dull, achy pain and restricted movement.

Rotator cuff injuries can be treated, so if you are experiencing shoulder pain, or pain when you move your arm, and it’s not getting better, you may wish to speak to a GP.

What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff injury?

The symptoms will depend on the cause and muscle or tendon affected, but rotator cuff injury symptoms that you may notice include:

  • Shoulder pain when lifting your arm
  • A loss of motion in your shoulder joint
  • Soreness and swelling
  • A dull ache
  • Pain that worsens through activity
  • Pain that is worse at night
  • Weakness in the joint
  • A grating or clicking sound when you move the shoulder
  • Difficulty performing everyday tasks, such as combing your hair

When should you see a GP about a rotator cuff injury?

If you have shoulder pain that isn’t getting better after rest, then it is a good idea to see a GP. Likewise, if you have weakness in your arm, or lose the ability to use your arm, you may need urgent medical assessment.

The doctor will be able to investigate your rotator cuff injury during an online video consultation. They will ask you a series of questions, which may include whether or not you have had an injury, how long you have had the pain and what activities are aggravating your shoulder pain.

The doctor may also ask you to perform certain arm and shoulder movements, so that they can compare the affected shoulder’s movement against the unaffected side.

In some cases, the doctor will wish to refer you for a rotator cuff injury test. This could include a X-ray, MRI scan or ultrasound scan. These test can be used to rule out other health conditions that may be causing your shoulder pain.

You may also be referred to a specialist for further investigations.

What are the causes of a rotator cuff injury?

Anyone can get a rotator cuff injury and there isn’t always an obvious cause for it developing. However, the most common causes of a rotator cuff problems include:

  • Injury
  • Wear and tear to the joint, possibly because of repetitive movements
  • A tear in one of the muscles or tendons

What is the treatment for a rotator cuff injury?

Your rotator cuff injury treatment may involve one or several key components and this will depend on the type of injury you have. It may include:

  • Painkillers - anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, and other pain medications may be recommended.
  • Ice or heat pack - Applying a cold or hot compress can help reduce swelling and pain. You can place a bag of frozen peas in a towel and hold it to the joint, or wrap a hot water bottle in a towel.
  • Rest - you should try to rest the affected joint as recommended by a medical professional. You can gradually introduce gentle exercises to prevent stiffness and to help build up strength.

If your injury is severe and doesn’t respond to the treatments above, you may be recommended:

  • Corticosteroid injections - these can help reduce pain and swelling, sometimes only temporarily. There can be significant side effects with steroid injections, so discuss with a doctor.
  • Physiotherapy - you may need to do some physio exercises to help make the muscles in your shoulder stronger.
  • Surgery - in severe cases you may need surgery to treat the injury, though this is usually a last resort.

How can Push Doctor help?

At Push Doctor, you can see a GP online using any device. You can do this from home, from work or even while you are on the go. They can look at your shoulder over a video consultation, listen to your symptoms and suggest the right treatment to get you on the road to recovery, as quickly as possible.

You can see a doctor about your shoulder pain at a time that suits you. Our GPs are available from 6am - 11pm, seven days a week. They can offer you the advice, diagnosis and treatment you may need. They can also refer you to a shoulder specialist for further investigation or treatment, if needed.