Sports Medicine: Rotator Cuff Overuse Injury
What is a rotator cuff overuse injury?
The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that help to stabilize the shoulder joint. They and are stressed in overhead sports such as baseball, tennis and swimming. The majority of rotator cuff injuries in sports are overuse injuries — injuries that occur over time from repetitive motion.
What causes a rotator cuff overuse injury?
Rotator cuff overuse injuries are most often caused by the muscles rubbing against or being pinched by the bones of the shoulder during repetitive overhead motion. The rotator cuff is further stressed during the follow-through phase of throwing, when the small rotator cuff muscles are trying to slow the arm down. This repetitive overhead throwing motion can create small tears in the rotator cuff muscles, bleeding, and can lead to inflammation.
What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff overuse injury?
Early on, the athlete may have intermittent (off and on) pain when throwing. Over time, the pain may become more severe and occur more often. The athlete may also have a dull ache, even at rest. Weakness and limitations in motion may also be present due to a rotator cuff injury.
How is a rotator cuff overuse injury diagnosed?
The physician will use a thorough history and physical exam to determine if the athlete has a rotator cuff overuse injury. Rotator cuff injuries in children and young teenagers are extremely uncommon. Stress around the growth centers of the shoulder, or instability of the joint are more common causes of the pain at this age. If the physician feels that the older teenage athlete has this injury, x-rays and/ MRI may be ordered to evaluate the damage to the rotator cuff.
What is the treatment for a rotator cuff overuse injury?
In the teenage population, a rotator cuff injury does not result in tissue damage that requires surgical repair. A physician may recommend removing the athlete from activity and prescribe a treatment plan consisting of rest and physical therapy.
What is the long term outlook for a rotator cuff overuse injury?
Most athletes are able to return to activity following a rotator cuff overuse injury. It is important for the athlete to continue to take steps to avoid re-injury. If the athlete is a pitcher, they should follow the Little League guidelines regarding pitch count (www.littleleague.org - under the rules and regulation changes tab).