Richard A Wathne, MD

December 11th, 2016

Whether closing a car door, throwing a snowball, lifting boxes, shoveling snow or reaching for items in the cupboard, we rely heavily on our shoulders to performing any number of activities. The unique ball and socket design of the shoulder gives us a great flexibility and range of motion. However, due to its intricate muscle and tendon configuration, it is susceptible to injury.

One of the more common causes of pain among adults is a rotator cuff tear. Rotator cuff disorders include any type of inflammation or damage to the muscles or tendons involved. Falls, heavy lifting and/or repetitive motions are common causes of injury and pain.

wathne-shoulder-pain-v1Those with rotator cuff injuries may experience:

  • Tenderness or pain in the shoulder when reaching, lifting or pulling
  • Some experience pain when sleeping on the injured shoulder
  • Limitations in range of motion and a feeling of weakness in the shoulder

Initially, pain may be mild and only occur when performing some overhead motion like reaching to get an item from a cupboard. Over a short period of time, pain may increase and is often classically described as a deep toothache feeling in the shoulder that radiates into the upper arm.  If the pain is severe, if you are unable to move your arm or, if pain lasts for more than a week, it is important to consult with a physician. If you have a rotator cuff tear and continue to use your arm despite increasing pain, further damage may result as a tear, even minor, will often enlarge over time.

Commonly, pain from less severe rotator cuff injury resulting in inflammation in the shoulder joint may be treated with over-the-counter medications, exercise therapy and/or an injection. However, if the source of pain is caused by a tear in the tendon, the torn area may begin to fray. As the fraying progresses, the tendon is apt to partially or fully tear. Early treatment can help alleviate long-term pain and damage.

The goals for any treatment plan is to reduce pain, restore function and prevent further injury. If shoulder pain is preventing you from enjoying activities, keeping you up at night or is worrisome, consider consulting a specialist. Fortunately, if surgery becomes necessary, the majority of these rotator cuff injuries can be treated through minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques.

For more information on orthopedic
injuries, treatment and prevention visit To learn more about Portneuf Orthopeadic Services or to reach my office, call Pocatello Orthopaedics at 208-233-2100.