At The North Wales Spine Clinic our Chiropractor who serves the Conwy, Gwynedd and Anglesey regions is also a registered Chiropractor with the International Federation of Sports Chiropractic.  His experience includes All Blacks, International Rugby stars, Olympic level Athletes and national teams.  He himself has represented the country as a Swimmer, played rugby for North Wales Youth and was the Royal Marine Commandos Welterweight boxing champion. with over 60 undefeated fights. In a series of articles on Sports Injuries in North Wales and Chiropractic he hopes to give some understandin to the cause, effects and treatment of Sports Injuries.

This articles covers Rotator Cuff Sports Injuries.

Rotator Cuff Sports Injury Explained

A Rotator Cuff sports injury is a common cause of shoulder pain. Sports Injury to the Rotator Cuff will usually begin as inflammation, often referred to as Rotator Cuff tendonitis. The Rotator Cuff muscles (Subscapularis, Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus and Teres minor) are small muscles situated around the shoulder joint. Although they have individual actions, their main role is to work together to stabilise the humeral head (ball) in the shoulder socket.

People with shoulder sports injuries are often told that they have injured one particular Rotator Cuff muscle or tendon, with the most common diagnosis being Supraspinatus tendonitis. However, it is unlikely that the problem is with just one of the muscles in isolation. The world’s top shoulder surgeons refer to such conditions as a ‘rotator cuff injury’ and consider the picture as a whole.

Although the Rotator Cuff can be injured by a single traumatic incident in sport, this is not common. Injury to the Rotator Cuff will usually begin as inflammation (tendonitis) caused by some form of micro trauma (a small but continuous source of irritation). If the cause of the inflammation is not addressed, and continues over a long period of time, partial tears may develop in the cuff that could eventually become complete tears (a tear all the way through one or more of the rotator cuff muscles).

There are three main causes of micro trauma to the rotator cuff in sports:

  1. Primary Impingement

The ‘Coraco-Acromial arch’ forms a bridge over the Rotator Cuff. It is made up of bones and ligaments and is lined by a sac of fluid called the Subacromial bursa. The space under the bridge that is available for the Rotator Cuff is called the Subacromial space.

Many people will have a naturally small Subacromial space, which is just bad luck, but the space can also be reduced by conditions such as Osteoarthritis. Whatever the cause of this small Subacromial space, repetitive overhead sporting activities (such as throwing a basketball or swinging a golf club) can cause the Rotator Cuff to become continuously squashed against the Coraco-Acromial arch, causing inflammation of the cuff.

  1. Secondary Impingement

Many people will have what is called shoulder instability (a lax shoulder joint). This laxity may have been present since birth or may be due to a sports injury. Often it will have occurred over time due to repetitive overhead activity, poor posture or inactivity.

Due to this instability, the Rotator Cuff has to overwork to stabilise the shoulder, causing it to become inflamed. Eventually, the Rotator Cuff will become weak and tired, and will not be able to prevent the humeral head from squashing up against the Coraco-Acromial arch. Because this type of impingement is not due to a small Subacromial space, it is called secondary impingement.

  1. Overstraining

During forceful throwing actions in sports (e.g. tennis service, pitching and throwing), the Rotator Cuff has to work very hard. With repetitive throwing, the cuff is prone to being overloaded, resulting in inflammation and tissue breakdown and sporting injury.

Rotator Cuff Sports Injury Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of Rotator Cuff sports injury include weakness, loss of full movement and shoulder pain. The amount of pain will depend on the extent of the sports injury. Patients with early-stage inflammation may only have pain with overhead activities, while those with a Rotator Cuff tear may not be able to sleep because of the pain.

As Sports Chiropractors we have a number of physical tests designed to diagnose the presence and severity of Rotator Cuff injury. It is also important to look for signs of shoulder instability. X-rays can give clues as to the presence of a rotator cuff injury but an MRI scan is the investigation method of choice to determine whether a tear is present. An ultrasound scan may be just as effective if carried out by an experienced sonographer.

Rotator Cuff Injury Treatment

What you can do

At The North Wales Spine Clinic we are professionals at dealing with sports injuries in the Conwy, Anglesey and Gwynedd regions. Its vital to get a diagnosis and the correct care for your sports injury.  We have had fantastic results with shoulder sports injuries with people from Menai Bridge, Caernarfon, Bangor, Llanfairfechan, Penmeanmawr, Conwy, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno and Abergele. Our North Wales Chiropractor will be able to tell you the extent of damage and a probable diagnosis.  Whilst you arrange your appointment with the Chiropractor at The North Wales Spine Clinic you can of course use ice/cold pack or even a bag of frozen peas over the affected area.  As you put the ice over your sports injury ensure you don’t put it directly onto your skin as it may cause a cold burn.  Anti-inflammatory medication is also a useful tool in the early stages of sports injury; consult your GP for this.

Sports injuries in the form of tears of the Rotator Cuff are best treated by surgical repair. Chiropractic is often effective in treating acute (short-term) inflammation and chronic (long-term) degeneration of the cuff where a tear is not present. The first aim of treatment is to reduce the amount of inflammation using ice therapy (never apply ice directly to the skin) and anti-inflammatory medication prescribed by a doctor. Anti-Inflammatory Gel may be more appropriate where anti-inflammatory tablets are not well tolerated. For those who want to continue with sports and work activities a neoprene shoulder support can provide support and reassurance.

A corticosteroid injection (an injection of a naturally occurring substance that can slow down inflammation) that bathes the Rotator Cuff, injury rather than being injected directly into it, is advocated by some doctors. However, even this may carry a risk of causing further damage and should be used with caution.

Once the inflammation and pain has settled, exercises to regain full movement can begin, followed by a carefully-graded strengthening and stabilising programmes helping you to return to sport. Resistance bands can be very useful for this. Faults in sporting technique that may have caused the problem in the first place must also be rectified.

Operative treatment of chronic inflammation and degeneration of the Rotator Cuff may be necessary if no progress is made with Chiropractic. The use of surgery aims to enlarge the Subacromial space (Subacromial decompression), thus reducing the risk of impingement.

Rotator Cuff Sports Injury Prevention

What you can do

For athletes, attention must be paid to flexibility, strength and endurance of the shoulder muscles, ensuring that the muscles of the scapula are not neglected. Learning the correct technique and choosing proper equipment are also important. In addition, any increases in the amount of training or competition must be gradual so as not to overload the rotator cuff. Resistance Bands are ideal for shoulder strengthening.

Finally, as our North Wales Chiropractor advises all our sports orientated patients in the Conwy, Gwynedd and Anglesey regions, a proper warm up and cool down may also help to prevent sports injury.