The rotator cuff is exactly what it sounds like. The muscles of the rotator cuff encircle the shoulder joint, allowing it to rotate without dislocating. These muscles and the tendons that attach them to your shoulder bones help you lift and pivot your arm.
You can injure your rotator cuff in numerous ways. Falls, car accidents, and repetitive motions can damage the soft tissues of the rotator cuff. This type of injury can cause pain and limit your shoulder’s range of motion.
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What Is the Function and Structure of the Rotator Cuff?
Your shoulder brings together three bones. Your upper arm bone, the humerus, includes a ball that fits into a socket in your shoulder blade, or scapula. The collarbone, or clavicle, sits on top of the scapula to provide an anchor point for your arm muscles.
As a result, you have two joints in your shoulder. One joint is formed by the humerus and scapula. The other joint is formed by the scapula and clavicle.
The socket in your scapula is shallow. You may know someone whose shoulder dislocates easily. This happens because the socket only engages the tip of the ball at the end of your humerus. The rotator cuff holds the ball in the socket to prevent it from dislocating.
Ligaments hold bones together at joints. In your shoulder, you have five ligaments. The main ligaments holding your humerus to your scapula are the superior, inferior, and middle capsular ligaments. These ligaments hold the ball of the humerus to the socket of the scapula.
Two additional ligaments hold the clavicle to the scapula and the upper end of the humerus to the scapula.
The capsular ligaments help the rotator cuff function, but the rotator cuff does not include these ligaments.
Instead, the rotator cuff includes four muscles and the tendons that anchor these muscles to the bones of your shoulder:
- The supraspinatus connects the back of your scapula to the top of your humerus to rotate and lift your arm
- The infraspinatus connects the back of your scapula to the back of your humerus to rotate your arm
- The teres minor connects the back of your scapula to the back of your humerus to assist the infraspinatus
- The subscapularis connects the front of your scapula to the front of your humerus to extend your arm from your body
The shoulder also contains bursae and cartilage. These structures cushion and lubricate the shoulder joint, allowing the bones to move without grinding.
How Can a Rotator Cuff Injury Happen?
Rotator cuff injuries can happen in a few ways:
Hyperextension occurs when your shoulder gets pulled abnormally. This might happen when your arm gets pulled beyond its normal capacity. You could hyperextend your shoulder in a slip and fall accident when you try to stop your fall by grabbing a railing, and your body weight pulls your arm harder and farther than normal.
It can also happen when your shoulder gets pulled in a direction it’s not meant to move in. Ligaments and tendons guide the movement of your joints. When they are forced in an abnormal direction, the tissues can get damaged. A pedestrian accident can cause this type of injury if your arm bends backward at the shoulder when you hit the ground.
Shoulder trauma can injure the rotator cuff. Blunt trauma can happen when you hit your shoulder without suffering an open wound. In a side-impact car accident, your shoulder might slam into your door. The impact can injure your rotator cuff tendons and muscles.
Penetrating trauma occurs when something pierces your shoulder. Glass shards on the ground might lacerate your rotator cuff when you fall during a motorcycle accident.
One of the most common causes of rotator cuff injuries is repetitive stress. When you use your muscles, they develop microscopic tears. When they heal, you build muscle. But if you do not rest, they cannot heal. Instead, the tears spread. These injuries often happen to people who have jobs where they perform repetitive motions like lifting.
What Types of Rotator Cuff Injuries Can Occur?
Not all rotator cuff injuries are equal. Some rotator cuff injuries are worse than others. As a result, they take longer to heal and may even cause permanent disabilities. Some common rotator cuff injuries include:
Tendinitis happens when a tendon becomes irritated and inflamed. When the tendon inflames, it swells. This swelling presses on nerves, producing pain, weakness, and stiffness. In many cases, these injuries result from repetitive stress.
Strains happen when a tendon or muscle gets hyperextended.
Strains produce symptoms such as:
- Muscle pain
- Muscle spasms
- Weakness and stiffness
Strains get classified into three levels of severity:
- Grade I includes strains that affect less than 5% of the muscle’s thickness and usually involve stretched (not torn) muscle fibers
- Grade II covers strains involving tears that affect more than 5% but less than 100% of the muscle fibers
- Grade III represents full-thickness tears where 100% of the muscle fibers are affected
When someone suffers a “torn rotator cuff,” it is typically a Grade II or Grade III strain. A Grade I strain usually heals with rest and anti-inflammatories. Grade II and Grade III strains may require surgery.
Sprains happen when ligaments get hyperextended. The capsular ligaments can get stretched or torn. While this type of sprain is not technically a rotator cuff injury, it produces similar symptoms, including pain, inflammation, and stiffness.
Mild sprains generally heal on their own within a month or two. Severe sprains may require surgery.
What Types of Compensation Can I Pursue for a Rotator Cuff Injury?
Rotator cuff injuries often lead to large losses. A severe tear can require surgery and months of physical therapy. During this time, you may experience a disability in your injured arm that prevents you from working. These financial losses represent economic damages that you can receive.
Equally importantly, the loss of use of your arm will diminish your quality of life. You will feel pain and mental anguish. You will experience disabilities and inconveniences due to your injury. These intangible losses represent non-economic damages you may be eligible for.To discuss your rotator cuff injury and the compensation you can seek, contact or call Shaked Law Personal Injury Lawyers at (305) 937-0191 for a free consultation.