Rotator Cuff Injury: When to see an Orthopaedic Surgeon

Posted on 05-24-2024 in Rotator Cuff & Shoulder by Dr. Chris O'Grady

Fortunately, when properly diagnosed and treated the vast majority of shoulder problems are treated successfully without surgery.  This is especially true of rotator cuff problems. However, in many cases, it is important to have an orthopaedic surgeon evaluate the problem in order to make sure something more serious is not the cause of the shoulder pain.

When shoulder pain is short-lived, an individual’s family doctor may be able to address the problem; however, if an individual experiences a long period of pain or loss of motion following an injury, he or she may have a torn rotator cuff. In a case such as this, a shoulder specialist should be consulted because some rotator cuff surgeries are time sensitive. Dr. Chris O’Grady is an Orthopaedic doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating injuries to the shoulder, including rotator cuff tears. He has been providing expert care to athletes of all ages in and around Gulf Breeze, Fla., for years.

Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Injury

A rotator cuff injury may:

  • Reduce an individual’s range of motion
  • Make it difficult to move the shoulder without pain
  • Cause the affected arm to feel weak
  • Lead to disturbed sleep, especially if the individual lies on the affected shoulder
  • Cause a dull, deep ache in the shoulder

An individual’s primary care physician may choose to observe his or her condition for a certain length of time without providing medical treatment. this practice is referred to as watchful waiting. The length of time a physician chooses to employ watchful waiting can range from several days to weeks, or even months.

Although watchful waiting may be suitable in certain instances, watchful waiting is not suitable when:

  • There has been a recent injury
  • The pain in the shoulder is intolerable
  • The shoulder pain is different and/or more severe than previous shoulder pain
  • The pain or stiffness is not improving or worsening

An individual experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms should contact an Orthopaedic surgeon and schedule an appointment. Even if a primary care physician makes a diagnosis, Dr. O’Grady can review the medical records to determine which nonsurgical and/or surgical treatments will serve the patient best.

Furthermore, for those with a significant shoulder injury, he or she should seek assistance from a physician as soon as possible.

Why Should Individuals with a Shoulder Injury See an Orthopaedic Surgeon?

Only a physician can diagnose an injury to the rotator cuff. Orthopaedic surgeons specialize in pain, diseases, and injuries related to the musculoskeletal system, which is why they play a significant role in diagnosing, treating, preventing and rehabilitating conditions related to the musculoskeletal system, including the shoulder.

If you have had a fall or other injury resulting in shoulder pain, schedule an appointment with an Orthopaedic surgeon. An Orthopaedic surgeon can diagnose most problems with x-rays and a good physical exam.  They may also confirm the suspected diagnosis with a diagnostic study, such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). The earlier a proper diagnosis is attained, the quicker treatment, pain relief, and recovery can begin.

Rotator cuff disease can occur due to a substantial shoulder injury, progressive degeneration and/or wear, and tear of the tendon.

Occupational and sports-related risk factors associated with damage to the rotator cuff include:

  • Regularly lifting heavy objects (construction worker, weight-lifter)
  • Repeatedly performing overhead activities (basketball player, construction worker, painter)
  • Performing the same activity over and over (factory worker, baseball pitcher, tennis player, archer, painter)

Unpreventable risk factors:

  • Bone spur development in the bones around the shoulder. These bone spurs can irritate and/or damage the tendon
  • Individuals over 40 years of age are at an increased risk for rotator cuff tears
  • Rotator cuff injuries may be genetic as these injuries tend to occur more commonly in some families

Without proper treatment, rotator cuff disease can lead to continued weakness and/or stiffness. Furthermore, a progressive degeneration of the shoulder joint may result.

When to Schedule an Appointment with an Orthopaedic Surgeon

An individual should schedule an appointment with an experienced Orthopaedic surgeon if he or she has:

  • Pain in the joints, tendons and /or muscles that lasts for more than a couple days
  • Difficulty performing daily activities due to a specific part of the body (carrying groceries, raising arms above the head, etc.)
  • Bruising and/or swelling at the location of the injury, or around the injured joint
  • Joint pain that worsens with motion
  • Deformity of the joint
  • A limited range of motion
  • Any other unusual symptoms in the area of the injury

Prompt Treatment Can Prevent Further Damage and Quicker Recovery

Without early intervention, the issue may become even more severe and lead to a chronic condition that includes loss of strength and a reduced range of motion. During an initial consultation with Dr. O’Grady, he will isolate the problem, determine the potential cause and discuss treatment options. In addition, he may provide a potential time frame for recovery.

If you have a shoulder injury or you are experiencing pain in your shoulder, schedule an appointment with Dr. Chris O'Grady today. The sooner you receive a diagnosis, the quicker recovery can begin.

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