The next step is to pay attention to the activities which cause your pain. The earlier you catch this, the more quickly you can get better if you just have bursitis or tendonitis. In general most rotator cuff tears are not going to get well. But I think if you deal with this condition early, maintain your range of motion and quit doing the things that hurt the rotator cuff, you might just be able to heal yourself. This has pretty much been my mantra over the past 10-15 years. Recognize the problem early, maintain mobility and condition, then limit or modify the things that result in pain.
Fortunately for my business but unfortunately for mankind, most of you don’t do this. You wait. You think it will get better on its own because that’s what it did when you were 20 years old. You try to “work through it,” or you just stop using your arm altogether. This doesn’t work. And then you end up in my office somewhere between 6 weeks and a year later. If you don’t read this in time or you can’t figure it out, I’d much rather you get in to see your primary care doc or your orthopedic surgeon early on in the course of your problem. You’re much more likely to have success with conservative treatment if we catch this early on.
So with rotator cuff disease (bursitis, tendonitis and partial tears) you will probably start experiencing pain in the front of your shoulder or down into the deltoid muscle (upper arm) when you;
1) raise your arm to do things like lift items (light and heavy) from upper shelves. Milk cartons from the top shelf of your fridge, plates from your cabinets, books and supplies from across your desk.
2) sleep with your arm over or under your head. This pain might actually wake you up from sleep. Of all the conditions I see, rotator cuff problems are most likely to keep my patients from sleeping. Many are pretty wigged out because of long sleepless nights!
3) throw overhead. 40+ dads who are just starting to throw to their kids in t-ball. Tennis league gals. Weekend warriors playing quarterback with 20 year-olds.
4) put your purse/brief case over on or behind the passenger seat.
These are just some of the common presenting complaints I see in about 5 patients every day. When you recognize you have this pain, I want you to start thinking about how you can modify each of these activities to keep them from hurting your shoulder. More on that next time…