As an experienced Virginia personal injury lawyer, I have learned the medicine and anatomy for the typical injuries I help my auto accident clients deal with. A torn rotator cuff is the most common shoulder injury, and it can be serious. The injury leaves many car crash victims unable rotate their arm normally and without pain. Tearing a rotator cuff also causes a person to lose strength and become unable to carry out daily tasks.
Each year, more than 4.1 million Americans see a doctor for shoulder problems and end up with a diagnosis of a torn rotator cuff, which means tendons connecting the upper arm bone (humerus) to the muscles that control the shoulder joint has detached or ripped. Two major causes of a rotator cuff tear are injury and degeneration due to age or overuse. Athletes who perform repetitive overhead motions, such as swimmers and football and baseball players, are most prone to experiencing rotator cuff tears. Falls and car accidents account for most rotator cuff tears among nonathletes.
Effects from a rotator cuff tear may include pain with rotation or strain while lifting, weakness, popping and cracking with movement, or no symptoms at all. A torn rotator cuff can also cause pain when pressed, such as when a person sleeps on his or her side.
Upon receiving a report of shoulder pain and weakness from a patient, a doctor will do a series of test. After listening to the patient’s description of his or her symptoms, the doctor will check to see if the shoulder is tender and then measure the range of motion and strength in both shoulders. After the initial process, the doctor may send the patient to get X-rays or an MRI to confirm a diagnosis of rotator cuff tear.
Nonsurgical treatments for a torn rotator cuff relieve pain for about 50 percent of patients. However, the strength of the shoulder may not improve without surgery. There are five nonsurgical ways a doctor may try to improve the strength and lessen the pain of a torn or partially torn rotator cuff. Rest, a key component to healing the shoulder, is crucial. Limiting overhead activities or even immobilizing the arm by using a sling may help treat the pain. Medication such as ibuprofen and naproxen may reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy or strengthening exercises will help restore movement and strengthen the shoulder. The exercises include stretches to improve flexibility along with range of motion. The last nonsurgical treatment is a steroid injection.
If nonsurgical treatments do not work, surgery is needed to reattach or repair the tendon. If the injury is mild, the surgery may consist of only a debridement, which is a process of trimming or smoothing the damaged tendon. In case of a complete tear, the surgical procedure involves stitching together the two sides of the tendon or affixing the tendon to the arm bone.
A torn rotator cuff injury may never fully heal and impede a person’s daily activities for life. If you suffered the injury through an accident caused by the carelessness of others, contact a Virginia personal injury lawyer who may be able to help you.