4 Tips to Help Prevent Rotator Cuff Tears
Along with some exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles supporting your shoulders.
Your shoulders shoulder a heavy load (pardon the pun). They are among the body's most complex and mobile joints, enabling us to push, pull, lift and carry — movements we use every day in countless ways, both routine and extraordinary.
But their very complexity and range of motion also make shoulders highly vulnerable to injury, according to Grant Garrigues, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Rush University Medical Center who specializes in diagnosing and treating shoulder issues.
Causes of rotator cuff tears
In the most basic terms, the shoulder is a ball (top of the arm bone) and socket (shoulder blade) joint. The most common shoulder injuries involve the group of muscles and tendons that surround the ball and both give it stability and mobility: the rotator cuff.
These are the primary causes of rotator cuff tears:
- Overuse, which can lead to tendonitis or irritation. "This is quite common," Garrigues says. "You see it a lot in people who play overhead sports, like tennis, baseball, softball and volleyball, or those who lift heavy weights overhead. But it can also happen if you're doing a strenuous activity where your arms are up over your head for long periods of time — a demanding home improvement project, for example.”
- Trauma. From the major to the minor — a car wreck to lifting something awkwardly — trauma can cause or intensify rotator cuff tears.
- Degeneration. "Age is the number one risk factor for rotator cuff tears," Garrigues says. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery found that people age 60 and older are more than five times as likely to suffer a rotator cuff tear than people younger than 60. And that number increases with age and is even higher in those with other health problems like smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis.
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