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A Senior’s Guide to Preventing and Treating Rotator Cuff Tears

Rotator cuff tears are highly common among senior citizens. In fact, they can affect up to 80 percent of seniors over the age of 80. In some cases, rotator cuff tears are asymptomatic and don’t cause many problems. But, they can also seriously impact your quality of life, especially if you’re a particularly active person. Luckily, there are lots of things seniors can do to both prevent rotator cuff tears and treat them to minimize the amount of discomfort they cause. Read on to learn more about preventing and treating this common injury.

What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

In order to understand what a rotator cuff tear is, you first need to understand the shoulder anatomy and the muscles that make up the rotator cuff. A rotator cuff is a group of muscles that stabilize the shoulder and hold the arm bone (humerus) in the shoulder socket. The following muscles make up the rotator cuff:

  • Infraspinatus
  • Supraspinatus
  • Subscapularis
  • Teres minor

These four muscles work together to keep shoulders working properly. If these muscles are damaged, you may experience a rotator cuff tear.

Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear

Common symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:

  • Pain when lowering or raising your arm
  • Pain when lying on your injured shoulder at night
  • A feeling of weakness when rotating or lifting your arm

Common Causes of Rotator Cuff Tears

In seniors, the following activities can increase your risk of experiencing a rotator cuff tear:

  • Direct trauma from a fall or other accident
  • Overexertion while playing sports, especially golf and tennis
  • Poor mobility and range of motion when performing daily chores

Seniors are more prone to rotator cuff tears because, as you age, the muscles and tendons tend to become thinner and less resilient.

How to Prevent Rotator Cuff Tears

Rotator cuff tears may be common among seniors, but they’re not inevitable. You can still live an active, healthy lifestyle while taking steps to prevent tears from occurring.  Some things seniors can do to keep rotator cuff tears at bay include:

Perform Shoulder-Strengthening Exercises

One of the most important steps you can take to prevent rotator cuff tears is to make shoulder-strength and mobility top priorities. Even if you don’t play sports or exercise on a regular basis, you should still take care to strengthen the muscles of the shoulder and rotator cuff. Remember, you don’t have to be an athlete to experience a rotator cuff tear.

By performing shoulder-strengthening and stretching exercises regularly, you’ll be able to keep the muscles of the shoulder and rotator cuff strong and mobile. Remember, the easier it is for you to move the shoulder joint comfortably through a full range of motion, the better off you’ll be. Some of the best exercises you can do to strengthen the shoulder muscles and the muscles of the rotator cuff include:

  • Internal and external rotation curls with a dumbbell or resistance band
  • Resistance band rows
  • Reverse dumbbell flyes
  • Single-arm resistance band rows
  • Doorway chest stretch

Perform these exercises a few times per week, at a minimum.

Warm Up Properly Before Exercising

It’s especially beneficial to do these exercises before you work out or play in a game or match. Taking time to warm up properly will improve blood flow to the muscles that will be working. It can also help you perform better, whether you’re lifting weights or swinging a racket.  Even if you’re not concerned about a potential injury, you should at least make warming up a priority for the performance-enhancing benefits!

Practice Proper Lifting Techniques

Finally, make sure you’re practicing proper lifting techniques, whether you’re lifting weights at the gym or lifting objects around your house. In order to protect your shoulders while lifting, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Maintain proper posture
  • Use your legs when picking objects up off the floor
  • Test objects before lifting them up all the way
  • Avoid overfilling trash bags and carry them with both hands
  • Stand on a step ladder to reach high shelves

How to Treat Rotator Cuff Tears

In the event that you do experience a rotator cuff tear, these tips can help you reduce your pain and speed up the recovery process:

  • Rest your affected shoulder: Take a break, especially from the activity that caused your injury
  • Apply ice to reduce inflammation and swelling
  • Use shoulder braces or sleeves to compress the shoulder and improve blood flow
  • Use anti-inflammatory drugs occasionally to minimize pain

In some cases, either arthroscopic or open surgery is required to repair the rotator cuff.

If your injury doesn’t get better within a few weeks and you’re finding everyday tasks difficult, you might want to consider this option. Most people find that they feel better with less invasive treatments, though.

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