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For many of us, sports like swimming and tennis are a hallmark of the summertime. Even though many scheduled team sporting events have been put on hold, a few laps in a private pool or a few turns on the tennis court with a friend are still perfect ways to spend a warm, sunny day. But an injured shoulder, especially a rotator cuff tear, can quickly put a stop to the fun.

At Barrington Orthopedic Specialists, we want our patients to know when they need medical attention to get back in the game as quickly as possible. If you’re experiencing shoulder pain after being active, here are a few ways you can identify a rotator cuff injury:

Rotator Cuff Injuries vs Rotator Cuff Tears

Rotator cuff injuries and rotator cuff tears are similar yet different. A rotator cuff injury involves damage or strain to the muscles and tendons, while a rotator cuff tear specifically refers to a rupture in one or more of these tendons. 

Rotator cuff injuries can include conditions like tendinitis, bursitis, and muscle strains, whereas a rotator cuff tear involves the actual tearing of the tendon.

Understand Your Risk Factors

Determining your risk factors is a helpful way to begin thinking about whether or not you’ve sustained a rotator cuff injury. Because they involve frequent and repetitive overhead motions, tennis, swimming and baseball are all sports which pose great risk for rotator cuff injuries. 

In a non-athletic setting, examine your work habits: if your job requires heavy lifting, you’re also at a particularly high risk of injuring your rotator cuff. Finally, if you’re older than age 40 or suddenly started becoming active after a sedentary period (which can weaken your shoulders), your risk of shoulder injury will be increased.

Know Your Symptoms

How exactly does your shoulder feel? If your pain is severe, you may be experiencing symptoms of a rotator cuff injury, like rotator cuff tendinitis. If you find yourself avoiding sports you’ve previously enjoyed because you anticipate pain in your shoulder, it’s possible that you’ve been living with a rotator cuff injury for some time. 

Keep an eye out for these additional symptoms as well:

  • Difficulty reaching behind your back
  • Pain when moving your shoulder in specific positions
  • Worsening shoulder pain during physical activities
  • Limited range of motion in your shoulder
  • Noticeable weakness in your shoulder
  • Poor sleep due to worsening pain, often at night

If these symptoms sound familiar, don’t wait for your injury to worsen before seeking treatment from an orthopedic shoulder specialist. To find the right provider at Barrington Orthopedic Specialists, please visit our website at For urgent needs when our physician’s office is closed, we also offer an immediate orthopedic care clinic.

Treatment Options

Treatment for rotator cuff injuries varies depending on their severity. Options may include:

  • Rest and Ice: Give your shoulder some downtime and apply ice to reduce inflammation.
  • Physical Therapy: Specific exercises can help strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers can provide temporary relief.
  • Corticosteroid Injections: These can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Surgery: In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the torn tendon.

Evaluate Your Sports Habits

Could the way you play be increasing your risk for shoulder injuries? Whether you’ve sustained a single traumatic injury or you’ve been causing wear and tear over a long period of time, it’s important to think about the way you use your shoulder if you suspect a rotator cuff injury. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does my activity of choice (swimming, tennis, pitching in baseball) involve a great deal of overhead arm movement?
  • Have I ever fallen on top of my arm while it was outstretched (for example, when sliding to catch a pitch)?
  • Have I recently taken a direct hit to my shoulder from a bat, ball or someone else’s body?
  • Could my age or underlying conditions be resulting in degenerative wear and tear on my shoulder tendons?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” it’s likely that you have sustained a rotator cuff injury, and it’s time to speak with an orthopedic shoulder specialist soon.

Preventing Future Injuries

Once you've recovered, it's essential to take steps to prevent future rotator cuff problems. This includes proper warm-ups before activities, avoiding overuse, and maintaining good posture.

Talk to Your Orthopedic Specialist

Rotator cuff injuries can be painful, but with the right treatment and preventive measures, you can get back to enjoying your activities without discomfort. If you suspect a rotator cuff tear or experience any shoulder issues, don't wait. Consult an orthopedic specialist who can accurately diagnose your condition and recommend the appropriate treatment. 

Only an orthopedic specialist can truly determine whether or not you’ve sustained an injury to your rotator cuff. If every factor discussed in this blog sounds familiar, it’s important to schedule an appointment soon so your condition does not worsen. At Barrington Orthopedic Specialists, our team of experts is here to help with shoulder surgery and more.

If shoulder pain is putting a damper on your summer fun, schedule an appointment with Dr. Thomas Obermeyer, Dr. Sean Jereb, Dr. Jason Rotstein, Dr. Matthew Bernstein, Dr. Mark Yaffe, Dr. Keith Schroeder, Dr. Ciro Cirrincione or Dr. Mark Levin. Our team of orthopedic shoulder and sports medicine specialists can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and the treatment you need to get back in the game. 

To schedule an appointment call (847) 285-4200 or complete an online appointment request form. For urgent needs when our physician’s office is closed, visit our Immediate Orthopedic Care (IOC) clinic in Schaumburg, Illinois.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a rotator cuff injury heal on its own without any treatment?

While some minor rotator cuff injuries may heal on their own with rest and conservative measures, more severe injuries often require medical intervention to promote proper healing and prevent complications. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

How do I know if I have a partial tear in my rotator cuff?

Symptoms of a partial tear in the rotator cuff may include pain, weakness, limited range of motion, and difficulty performing certain movements or activities. An orthopedic specialist can diagnose a partial tear through physical examination and imaging tests. 

Can a rotator cuff injury lead to complications in the ball and socket joint?

Yes, a severe or untreated rotator cuff injury can potentially lead to complications in the ball and socket joint of the shoulder. These complications may include instability, arthritis, and limited mobility. Early intervention and proper treatment can help minimize the risk of joint-related complications.

What is the difference between a torn rotator cuff and a partial tear?

A torn rotator cuff refers to a complete rupture or tear of one or more tendons in the rotator cuff, while a partial tear indicates that only a portion of the tendon is damaged.

When should I consult a healthcare professional for my rotator cuff-related symptoms?

It's advisable to seek medical attention if you experience persistent shoulder pain, limited mobility, muscle weakness, or nighttime pain. Early diagnosis and intervention can lead to better outcomes.