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How to Avoid Rotator Cuff Injuries While Working

Rotator cuff injuries or tears are one of the most commonly encountered shoulder problems seen by orthopedic surgeons.  They are so common, in fact, that almost everyone can recall either a friend or family member who has experienced rotator cuff problems.  The latest surgical techniques, particularly arthroscopic techniques, have revolutionized treatment of these injuries, offering hope for many patients even with large tears. However, as with most bone and joint problems, the best way to treat a rotator cuff tear is to avoid sustaining one at all.

Workers who are employed at strenuous jobs have a unique, vested interest in avoiding this type of shoulder injury.  While some rotator cuff tears occur as a result of "wear and tear" over time, some tears can occur acutely as a result of a direct blow to the shoulder or an awkward or difficult lift.  

When it comes to lifting mechanics, the shoulder is most vulnerable to injury when a heavy lift is performed with the arm extended, or out away from the body.  Placing heavy weight or stress at the end of an outstretched arm creates a large lever, or torque, which must then be countered by the shoulder muscles, including the rotator cuff muscles and tendons.  To reduce this stress, instead perform all lifts with the arm held squarely against the body as much as possible.  Utilize the powerful leg and hip muscles to aid in lifting and keep the spine upright.  This will not only reduce stress on the shoulder but reduce fatigue in the upper and lower back.  

Proper lifting technique, when carefully adhered to, can minimize your chance of sustaining an activity related rotator cuff sprain or tear.  Making this one simple change and keeping the arm against your body will go far towards keeping your shoulders healthy and in "good repair".

R. Grant Mostak, fellowship-trained in shoulder and elbow and sports medicine. He practices at OrthoCarolina’s Concord office. 

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