The shoulder joint, which is a ball-socket joint, comprises the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and the collarbone (clavicle). The head of the upper arm bone fits into a socket in the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles (infraspinatus, supraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor muscles) and tendons that attaches the humerus to the shoulder blade. It helps to lift and rotate the arm. If the tendons attached to these muscles get ruptured or develop tears, the movement of the shoulder can get greatly restricted.
The supraspinatus muscle is located at the top of the shoulder blade. It arises from supraspinatus fossa, a depression above the spine of the scapula, which is a bone that connects the upper arm bone to the collarbone. This muscle allows us to move the arm upwards and away from the body. The range of the motion of the muscle is between 60 and 120 degrees. Besides facilitating the movement of the arm, this muscle also helps in the stabilizing the shoulder joint. Since this muscle helps in moving the arm upwards, a person who has developed a supraspinatus tear is likely to experience shoulder pain while lifting the arm.
Most tears occur in the supraspinatus tendon. The tear could be partial (slight damage to the soft tissue without severing of the attachment to the bone) or complete/full-thickness tear (when the tendon gets detached from the attachment site). These could be acute (tears that occur due to an injury) or chronic (tears that occur due to normal wear and tear of the tendons with age).
Those who play sports such as baseball, tennis, rowing, or weightlifting are at a greater risk of developing a supraspinatus tear. Repetitive stress to the shoulder could also give rise to a partial tear. An injury to the shoulder or formation of a bone spur in the shoulder could cause a supraspinatus muscle tear. Lifting weights overhead or performing sudden and jerky overhead movements could also cause stress on the tendon and muscles in the shoulder-joint complex. If this tendon develops a tear or becomes inflamed, one is most likely to experience the following symptoms:
- Pain in the front and the side of the shoulder
- Pain while lifting the arm
- Pain while rotating the arm
- Pain that radiates to the arm
- Weakness in the upper arm
- Crackling sounds while moving the shoulder
- Pain, stiffness, and weakness that worsens with time (chronic tear)
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you have been experiencing recurrent shoulder pain, you must consult a doctor soon. An X-ray examination can help the doctors ascertain the extent of injury. The treatment generally involves the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers. If the pain is severe, the use of steroid injections might also be recommended. It is extremely important that the patient takes ample rest. One must never indulge in any activity that causes stress to the rotator cuff. One must not carry heavy objects. A lack of aftercare will undoubtedly slow down the process of recovery.
Once the muscle or the tendon has healed considerably, one could go for physical therapy sessions and perform exercises suggested by the physiotherapist. If medicines are not really working and one's range of motion is adversely affected, doctors might recommend a surgery. The surgeon will make an open incision and remove the damaged tissues or bone spurs. If the tendon had separated from the bone, it will be attached to the bone with sutures. The incision will then be closed and a dressing will be applied. Once the patient has recovered from the surgery, he/she would have to perform certain exercises that will help strengthen the shoulder joint and restore the range of motion.
The development of tears in the supraspinatus tendon or muscle gives rise to shoulder pain. It may also restrict the range of motion of the shoulder joint. If you have been experiencing the aforementioned symptoms, consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.