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Healthwise: Rotator Cuff Injuries

March 28, 2012

The rotator cuff, located in your shoulder, is used for everyday routines. But over time, doctors say it can tear, causing a great deal of pain and discomfort.

"It usually begins with pain along the shoulder. A lot of time there's pain that radiates down to the arm," said Dr. Stephen Gunther, an orthopedic surgeon at Martha Jefferson Hospital who specializes in shoulder surgeries.

But how do you know if you have a rotator cuff tear or just arthritis?

"Usually the rotator cuff pain is insighted by lifting the arm away from your body," Dr. Gunther explained. "A lot of times with arthritic pain when your arm comes down by the side rotating, so it's a bit different."

Having a rotator cuff injury isn't something you want to ignore, Dr. Gunther says. The pain can last more than a month and should be treated early before a small tear becomes a big problem.

Dr. Gunther says there are several treatment options, such as modifying your activities with the way you use your arms. For example, holding your arms closer to your body when rotating them instead of having them extended from your body. Patients also often benefit from anti-inflammatory medications and steroid injections.

But if those methods don't work surgery may be needed. The surgery is not common but is a minimally invasive procedure called arthroscopic surgery, something familiar to professional athletes. During the operation a doctor uses two instruments to stitch and secure the tear in the rotator cuff.

"If it's a decent quality rotator cuff and we can pull it out and get it healed, then they should return to pretty much full function," said Dr. Gunther.

The Martha Jefferson Hospital will be hosting a free community forum to talk about shoulder pain. It will be held Apr., 3 at 6:30 p.m.

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