Every winter, without fail, many drivers come to my clinic with rotator cuff injuries.
Interestingly, most of these injured drivers are flatbedders. Job tasks such as tarping, chaining down a load or pulling the pin on a fifth wheel are common causes of rotator cuff injuries among truck drivers.
Most of us have either had a rotator cuff injury or know of someone who has had one.
But, what exactly is the rotator cuff? Basically, it comprises of four muscles that are located in our shoulder.
The main function of the rotator cuff is to connect your upper arm bone to your shoulder blade and to hold your shoulder joint firmly in its socket during arm movements. Rotator cuff injuries include any type of damage or irritation to the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff.
One common cause of rotator cuff injuries is normal wear and tear on the shoulder which can result in the breakdown of the fibrous tissue in the cuff’s tendons and muscles.
When this occurs, you are more likely to develop calcium deposits within the cuff or arthritic bone spurs that can pinch the muscles.
Watch your posture
Another common cause which is especially important for truck drivers is poor posture. When you roll your shoulders forward and slouch your neck, you decrease the spaces that the rotator cuff’s muscles pass through.
Eventually, this can cause the muscles and tendons to become pinched underneath your shoulder bones.
Now if you add the bouncing of a truck, this greatly increases the compression forces on the rotator cuff.
By far, the most frequent cause of rotator cuff injuries is lifting or pulling a heavy object incorrectly. As a result, it is very important to make sure that you have a solid base and lift in a slow and controlled manner.
In general, people suffering from rotator cuff injuries experience shoulder pain – especially with overhead movements like combing your hair or putting something on a shelf.
Shoulder weakness and decreased range of motion is also experienced by many people.
In severe cases, patients may experience constant pain and muscle weakness, especially when lying on the affected side.
If you experience severe shoulder pain that lasts a few weeks or you are unable to move your arm, it is important to see a health care professional as soon as possible. Once there, they will assess your condition and determine if further diagnostic testing is required. If this is the case, your doctor will refer you for an X-ray, MRI or ultrasound.
Treatment for rotator cuff injuries usually consists of physical therapy.
Your therapist will recommend specific exercises aimed at increasing shoulder flexibility and strength as well as improving muscle balance.
In more severe cases, a corticosteroid injection may be administered to relieve inflammation and pain.
Surgery is only an option in the event of a large tear within a muscle or if a large bone spur is present. Fortunately, minor injuries to the rotator cuff often heal on their own. In the meantime, there are a few things that you can do at home to help speed this process up. First of all, it is important to rest your shoulder.
Try to avoid painful movements and limit heavy lifting until the shoulder has fully healed.
Ice can also be applied to help reduce pain and inflammation.
Place a gel pack or some ice cubes wrapped in a towel on your shoulder for 10 minutes at a time. Repeat this every few hours for the first three days of the injury.
As I have said many times, the best cure is prevention.
If you have had a rotator cuff injury in the past or you are at risk of developing one, speak to your doctor or therapist about specific preventions techniques.
The best way to prevent rotator cuff injuries is to perform regular shoulder exercises.
To add to this, taking frequent breaks at work if your job requires repetitive arm and shoulder motion will also help prevent injuries.
By following these simple prevention tips, you will greatly reduce your chances of injuring your rotator cuff.
Until next month, drive safely.
– Dr. Christopher Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont.
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