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Returning to Sports After a Rotator Cuff Injury

More than 3 million Americans suffer rotator cuff injuries every year, many as a result of sports and other physical activities. The good news is that rotator cuff injuries are treatable, and you can usually go back to enjoying your regular activities afterward. The key is to follow your shoulder rehabilitation program carefully.

As a leading orthopedic specialist on New York City’s Upper West Side, William Schell, MD, helps patients recover from rotator cuff injuries using advanced techniques for optimal results. Here’s how he can help you get back to the activities you love.

Shoulder anatomy 101

Your shoulder is a very mobile joint, able to move up, down, and in a circular motion, so you can lift and rotate your arm. The joint forms where the shoulder bone (scapula), upper arm bone (humerus), and collarbone (clavicle) meet. 

The shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint. The scapula forms a cup-shaped socket that cradles the top, ball-shaped end of the humerus. The rotator cuff is a group of tendons and muscles that surround the joint, and it helps hold the bones in position.

The basics of rotator cuff injuries

Because your shoulder is so mobile, the rotator cuff is subjected to a lot of force. Many rotator cuff injuries occur during sports or other physical activities, when the muscles or tendons become strained, inflamed, or torn.

You can have a rotator cuff tear at any age, but like other tendon injuries, rotator cuff injuries tend to become more common with age. In fact, after age 40, your risk of these injuries can increase significantly.

You’re also more likely to suffer a rotator cuff injury if you play a sport that requires repetitive movements of your shoulders or arms, such as swinging a racket or throwing a ball. Less often, you can tear your rotator cuff by falling on an outstretched arm.

Some people have jobs or hobbies that increase their risk of suffering rotator cuff injuries. Activities that require a lot of overhead activity or lifting, such as painting or carpentry, can also make you more prone to damaging your rotator cuff.

What’s more, not all rotator cuff injuries are equal. You can suffer a partial or full rotator cuff tear. Sometimes, the tendon can even tear away from the bone. Your treatment will depend on how badly the rotator cuff is damaged, along with other factors, such as your overall health and medical history.

Treating rotator cuff injuries

Some rotator cuff tears can be treated conservatively with nonsurgical options, such as the following: 

Conservative treatments may be helpful for milder injuries, such as very small tears. More severe injuries may require surgical repair.

Rotator cuff surgery is performed using general anesthesia. Dr. Schell uses special surgical techniques to repair the tendon. Depending on your injury and other factors, he may use an arthroscopic approach, which uses small incisions, or an open technique, which uses a larger incision.

Getting back in the game

Following rotator cuff surgery, you’ll need to wear a sling to protect the joint and prevent unwanted movement. You’ll also need to prop up your shoulder with pillows while you sleep and avoid sleeping on your side.

Physical therapy will likely begin soon after your surgery, and it will play a critical role in your healing. Therapy includes exercises to promote healing and improve strength and mobility in your joint. The length of therapy will depend on the type of surgery you have, the type of injury, how well you heal, and other factors. After therapy — or shortly before — you’ll gradually return to your regular activities, giving your shoulder time to adjust.

Recovering from a rotator cuff tear typically takes several months. Following your plan carefully will help you come back strong and healthy, and it will also help you avoid reinjuring your shoulder.

If you have a shoulder injury, we can help you get well. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with William Schell, MD, today.

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