Your shoulder is a well designed joint to perform complex movements in your daily activities. The makeup allows you to perform many movements above your head, behind you and in various other directions.
The shoulder muscles may appear quite strong due to its ability to perform various movements; however, it’s susceptible to injuries when certain movements are performed repeatedly or some aspects of the muscles do not work as they are supposed to.
The shoulder muscles and their corresponding strong cords form a cuff around the shoulder joint. The muscles join the bone in your arm to your shoulder blade. They play a vital role in keeping the stability in the joint.
However, there are instances where the muscles may become irritated for example as a result of a fall. An injury or damage to the muscles may occur as a result of the fall leading to tears in the muscles.
The extent of damage to the muscles differs depending on the severity of the injury. Sometimes the tears occur across the entire muscle or may also be localised in some parts of the muscle.
What are the risk factors/ causes?
Shoulder muscle tears may occur as a result of repetitive use of the shoulder muscles which may be over a prolonged period of time.
Some individuals develop the condition when they engage in activities which require a lot of shoulder movements involving one or both arms above the head.
Sports activities which require the throwing of balls predispose those individuals to injury of their shoulder muscles over a prolonged period of time.
Individuals in certain work environments may also perform shoulder movements which may cause damage to the muscles.
Repetitive damage to these muscles may cause a decrease in arm movements for a long time. You may also develop the condition when you lift heavy objects or when your shoulder muscles sustain direct blow(s) to it.
Some individuals may sustain the condition as a result of previous damage to their shoulder muscles and this leads to a deterioration of the muscles. As you get older, your muscles may become weaker and you may become more prone to injures to your shoulder muscles especially if you are involved with certain types of repetitive shoulder movements – overhead movements.
The application of too much force in the shoulder muscles may also result in forming tears within the muscles. Sudden or rapid movements, such as preventing a heavy object from falling or when you lift very heavy items incorrectly may also predispose you to shoulder muscle injuries.
What are the symptoms?
Individuals may have varied complaints about the condition. You may have pain on the top aspect of the shoulder or around your arm. Some may also complain of shoulder weakness and a decrease in shoulder movements.
Your arm may feel quite heavy and prevent you from lifting or raising it. This may make your daily activities a challenge as you would not be able to perform simple activities such as zip up a blouse or comb your hair.
When there are partial tears in the muscle, you may be able to move your affected arm and perform all movements although there may be discomfort in the shoulder. In more severe conditions it’s more difficult to move the arm in different directions or lift up your arm.
Some individuals may complain of a catching feeling whenever they move the arm and are unable to lie on the affected arm.
How is it diagnosed?
Your medical history which includes previous injuries or medical conditions you may have will be reviewed. You may be required to undergo a few tests and examinations to ascertain the main cause of the pain/ discomfort you experience.
The available movements of the affected arm will also be evaluated as well as the manner in which you are able to move your arm. Further investigations may be required to rule out other conditions and assist with the final diagnosis of the condition.
Tests conducted may be an X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), ultrasound etc.
The writer is a Senior Physiotherapist at the 37 Military [email protected]