A Minimally-Invasive Approach to Shoulder Injury
Your shoulder is one of the more complex joints in your body. The rotator cuff—a group of tendons in your shoulder joint—gives your shoulder much of its support and enhances its range of motion. Because the shoulder gets so much use in the ordinary course of life, it’s not uncommon to sustain a tear to one or more of the tendons that make up the rotator cuff. If you play tennis, baseball or volleyball, you are even more susceptible to rotator cuff injury.
The telltale signs of a rotator-cuff injury include:
- Pain when using the arm or shoulder, or even when the shoulder is at rest
- Weakness or instability when lifting or turning the arm or shoulder
- A crackling or popping sensation when moving the shoulder
If you’ve experienced any of these sensations, your doctor will likely prescribe an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). That’s the most reliable and effective way to diagnose a rotator-cuff injury.
Strategies for Treating a Rotator-Cuff Injury
The type of treatment you receive typically will depend on the severity of your injury. If you have merely strained or inflamed the tendons in the rotator cuff (known as rotator cuff tendonitis), your body may respond well to rest, ice, exercise, pain medications or steroid injections. If, however, the tendons are torn, you may require a surgical procedure to reattach the tendon to the shoulder bone. If possible, you’ll want to have the procedure done arthroscopically.
In an arthroscopic procedure, medical professionals (surgeons) make a small incision somewhere on your body and insert a fiber-optic camera (the arthroscope). The arthroscope sends a picture back to a monitor, so the surgeon can see where the damage is and how significant it is. The surgeon will then use specialized tools (which also are inserted into the body) to make any necessary repairs.
You can always opt for “open surgery,” where surgeons cut your shoulder open with a scalpel and use other tools to repair the rotator cuff tendons. However, the arthroscopic procedure involves small incisions, an accelerated healing process, less risk of infection, less pain, and less likelihood of scarring.