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What Are The Stages Of A Rotator Cuff Injury?

Rotator cuff injuries can vary in severity and may progress through different stages depending on factors such as the underlying cause, duration, and extent of the injury. Individual experiences may vary.

Here are general stages that may occur in a rotator cuff injury…

  1. Stage 1: Inflammation (Tendonitis)
    • In the initial stage of a rotator cuff injury, inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons may occur due to repetitive strain, overuse, or acute trauma.
    • Symptoms may include pain, tenderness, and swelling in the shoulder, particularly with overhead movements or activities that place stress on the rotator cuff.
    • Range of motion may be slightly limited, and strength may be diminished, but function is typically not significantly impaired at this stage.
  2. Stage 2: Tendon Degeneration (Tendinosis)
    • With continued stress and strain on the rotator cuff tendons, degenerative changes may occur, leading to tendinosis or chronic tendon damage.
    • Symptoms may persist or worsen over time, with increased pain, stiffness, and weakness in the shoulder.
    • Range of motion may become more limited, and activities such as reaching overhead, lifting, or throwing may become more difficult and painful.
  3. Stage 3: Partial Thickness Tear
    • As the rotator cuff tendons undergo degenerative changes, small tears or fraying may develop within the tendon tissue.
    • Symptoms may include persistent or sharp pain, weakness, and loss of function in the shoulder, particularly during activities that involve lifting, reaching, or rotating the arm.
    • Imaging studies such as MRI or ultrasound may reveal evidence of partial thickness tears or tendon damage.
  4. Stage 4: Full Thickness Tear
    • In severe cases or with continued progression of the injury, the rotator cuff tendon may suffer a complete tear or rupture, resulting in a full thickness tear.
    • Symptoms may include intense pain, significant weakness, and loss of function in the shoulder, making it difficult to perform routine activities of daily living or participate in sports or physical activities.
    • Imaging studies such as MRI are typically used to confirm the diagnosis of a full thickness tear and assess the extent of tendon involvement.

It’s important to note that not all rotator cuff injuries progress through distinct stages, and individual experiences may vary based on factors such as the severity of the injury, underlying health conditions, and response to treatment. Early recognition and appropriate management of rotator cuff injuries are crucial for preventing progression and optimizing outcomes. If you suspect a rotator cuff injury or experience persistent shoulder pain or dysfunction, consult with a healthcare professional for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan.