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Rotator Cuff Tear vs. Frozen Shoulder: There's a Difference

Sore shoulder

More often than not, you never realize how much you move your shoulder every day until you feel some pain or you are unable to move the shoulder at all. Many shoulder conditions may lead to reduced range of motion, pain, and stiffness in the shoulder. Such problems do not necessarily occur following traumatic injuries. Often times, they occur over a long time from overuse and repetitive motions. Rotator cuff tears, frozen shoulder, and shoulder impingement are some of the most common conditions that shoulder orthopedic surgeons in Atlanta treat every day.

These conditions are commonly confused, especially the frozen shoulder and rotator cuff tear. The following information will provide you with insight into the two conditions to detail their differences.

Rotator Cuff Tears

The rotator cuff is made of the muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint. A rotator cuff injury causes dull pains, which escalate when you sleep on the affected shoulder. This shoulder condition can often affect people who perform repetitive overhead motions or those who participate in competitive sports. A rotator cuff tear is largely attributed to any substantial injury to the shoulder or the degeneration of the tendon tissue over time.

You may recover from this condition with physical therapy. However, if the rotator cuff is torn because of a sudden injury, you should see your physician for a physical examination. The type of treatment that will be recommended will depend on the size of the tear.

Common symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:

  • A dull ache in the shoulder
  • Disturbed sleep when lying on the affected shoulder
  • Inability to perform basic functions such as combing the hair or stretching your hand behind your back
  • Arm weaknesses

The following factors may increase your risk of developing a rotator cuff injury:

  • Occupation and sports participation - Certain types of professions, such as painters and carpenters, and sports athletes, such as pitchers, archers, and tennis players, may have increased chance of developing a rotator cuff injury, due to the repetitive arm motions necessary to perform these types of activities.
  • Age - as you grow older, your chance of experiencing a rotator cuff tear can increase.

You should seek treatment from your shoulder orthopedic in Atlanta for a rotator cuff tear because this condition can lead to degeneration of your shoulder joint and a permanent loss of motion in the shoulder.

Shoulder doc

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder is also known as adhesive capsulitis. It is characterized by pain and stiffness in the shoulder and sometimes in the upper arm. Symptoms will get progressively worse but with proper treatment can eventually recover. Physical therapy focused on improving shoulder flexibility is a primary treatment recommendation.

Normally, the shoulder bones, tendons, and ligaments are covered by a capsule of tissues. If this capsule tightens and thickens on the shoulder joint, movement is restricted, and this causes frozen shoulder.

Key signs of frozen shoulder include severe pain and being unable to move your shoulder, either on your own or with the assistance of someone else.

Frozen shoulder develops in three stages:

  • Stage 1: Freezing stage – In the freezing stage, you experience more and more pain. As the pain worsens, you lose range of motion. Slight movements cause pain limiting your shoulder’s range of motion.
  • Stage 2: Frozen stage – In the frozen stage, pain symptoms may diminish a bit, but the shoulder becomes stiffer.
  • Stage 3: Thawing stage – In the thawing stage, the range of shoulder motion starts improving. Complete return to normal or almost normal strength and motion can take from 6 months to 2 years.

Major factors that contribute to frozen shoulder include:

  • Age and gender – People between the ages of 40 – 60 years, particularly women over 40, are more likely to suffer from frozen shoulder.
  • Immobility – Conditions that cause a person to be less mobile, such as those who have recently had mastectomies may be more prone to experience frozen shoulder.
  • Some systematic diseases – Diseases including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, Parkinson’s Disease, TB, and cardiovascular diseases also experience an increased risk of frozen shoulder.

If you are experiencing persistent shoulder pain or immobility, it will help to talk to a shoulder specialist to determine which condition you are suffering from. With a rotator cuff injury, your arm’s range of motion may be limited, but you can lift it manually. In contrast, a frozen shoulder is characterized by a dull or aching pain and a limited range of motion makes it difficult to lift the arm past a certain point. Once you understand the difference, a shoulder specialist from OrthoAtlanta can help determine the condition affecting you and develop the appropriate medical treatment plan.

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