The rotator cuff isn’t a single body part. It comprises four separate muscle groups that work together to allow a range of motion in your shoulder. When your rotator cuff is injured, you cannot raise or extend your arm, making many basic tasks impossible.
Causes and Symptoms of Torn Rotator Cuff Injuries
Torn rotator cuffs are very common in athletes and are often associated with sporting accidents. However, sports aren’t the only cause of torn rotator cuff injuries. Car accidents are another common culprit, particularly in high-speed collisions. The greater the force exerted in the crash, the greater the risk of a serious shoulder injury. Like whiplash neck injuries, torn rotator cuffs are most frequently caused by rear-end collisions. As the driver grips the steering wheel, the impact of the striking vehicle drives powerful forces through the back and shoulders, causing damage to tissue beneath the skin. When tendons and muscle fibers are pushed beyond their limits, they can physically tear apart, resulting in a torn rotator cuff injury. The most apparent symptoms of a torn rotator cuff are shoulder pain, stiffness, and loss of strength or mobility when attempting to lift or stretch your arm. You may also notice a few related symptoms and effects, which can include:
- A popping sound or sensation in your shoulder.
- Insomnia is caused by pain keeping you awake at night.
- Pain that shoots down your arm, away from the source of the injury.
- Shoulder swelling.
- Upper back and/or neck pain.
If you’ve noticed these or any other unusual symptoms after an accident, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately. The sooner you see a physician, the sooner you can get on the path to recovery. It is also essential to seek prompt medical care from an insurance perspective, as delaying treatment can make getting the compensation you deserve more difficult. You can read more about this topic in our article on when to see a doctor after a car accident.
Can a Car Accident Cause Arthritis Leading to a Torn Rotator Cuff?
A car accident can potentially trigger arthritis initially caused by a torn rotator cuff. The impact and trauma from the accident can cause chronic inflammation, leading to the development of arthritis. This condition can weaken joints, including the shoulder, making them more susceptible to injury, such as a torn rotator cuff. Seeking prompt medical attention is essential to address both potential injuries.
Torn Rotator Cuff Treatment and Prognosis
As with any injury, the treatment required to repair a torn rotator cuff depends on the severity of the damage. Only a physician can tell you what treatment and aftercare your torn rotator cuff will need. That being said, some possible treatment methods could include, depending on the size of the tear:
- Corticosteroid Injections — If you’ve ever used hydrocortisone cream, you’re already familiar with corticosteroids, which act as anti-inflammatory drugs. Your doctor may inject a local anesthetic before injecting the corticosteroid drug.
- Physical Therapy — Even a successful surgery can be thwarted by underuse, overuse, or misuse of a healing joint. A physical therapist will guide you through exercises to enhance joint strength and keep your recovery on track.
- Torn Rotator Cuff Surgery — Several surgeries may be used to correct a torn rotator cuff. Possible procedures include:
- All-Arthroscopic Repair — A camera and surgical tools are inserted through a tiny hole in the affected area. This type of surgery reduces scarring and is less invasive than open repair.
- Mini-Open Repair — A small-scale version of open repair surgery.
- Open Repair — Open repair is open surgery. The surgeon will make an incision several inches long and physically manipulate the muscles and tendons in the injured area.
You should never attempt to treat any injury by yourself and should always talk to a doctor about how to deal with your injury while you are at home, away from medical supervision. However, some potential home remedies to discuss with your doctor include:
- Applying ice packs for short periods of time (about 10 to 20 minutes) several times per day.
- Managing minor, temporary aches and pains with over-the-counter medications like Advil or Tylenol.
- Wearing a sling to take stress off your shoulder. Too much sling use can worsen your shoulder stiffness, so medical guidance is critically important.