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Rotator Cuff Injuries: A Bane of Baseball Pitchers and Older Adults

Baseball pitchers aren't the only ones at risk for rotator cuff injuries of the shoulder. According to the November issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter, adults older than age 60 experience more rotator cuff injuries than any other age group.

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and tendons that run between the bones of the upper arm and shoulder blade. They facilitate shoulder movement and help support the ball and socket joint connecting the upper arm and shoulder. Injury to the rotator cuff includes any type of irritation or damage to these muscles and tendons.

Pain is the most common symptom of a rotator cuff problem. But the amount of pain doesn't necessarily indicate the seriousness of the injury. A significant rotator cuff tear sometimes causes little pain. A minor irritation can cause pain that substantially interferes with daily life.

Strains or tears can occur while using an arm to break a fall. Repetitive motions, even painting a wall, may be enough to irritate the rotator cuff. Other common culprits are playing tennis or golf. Working in construction trades or lifting heavy objects can injure the rotator cuff. Muscle and tendon degeneration, increasingly common after age 40, also can play a role. Bone spurs, poor posture and muscle strength imbalance can cause pain in the rotator cuff, too.

Minor pain often improves with self-care, such as rest, ice on the shoulder and taking over-the-counter pain medications. Seeing a doctor is important if pain persists or interferes with day-to-day activities.

Treatment will likely include several weeks of physical therapy to help heal the injury, improve flexibility of the rotator cuff and shoulder muscles and increase strength. A doctor also might recommend injection of inflammation-suppressing corticosteroids to reduce pain.

Minor surgery might be indicated when the pain is related to a bone spur or calcium deposits pinching a tendon. Large tears in the muscle can be repaired surgically, too. Patients typically need four to six months of rehabilitation to restore shoulder function.

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