Why Your Dull Shoulder Pain Isn’t Going Away

Even if you don’t think you’ve ever injured your shoulder, you might have a torn rotator cuff.

Can’t Sleep?

If you have a dull ache in your shoulder that’s keeping you from sleeping at night, or if it’s becoming difficult to raise your arm and do simple things like combing your hair and getting dressed, you might have an injured rotator cuff. Even if you’ve never seriously injured your shoulder, you still can have a torn rotator cuff. Ok, so first of all, what is the rotator cuff, and what does it do?

What is Your Rotator Cuff?

Your arm is held in your shoulder socket by your rotator cuff—it’s a group of four tendons and muscles that come together around the shoulder joint. They form a “cuff” over the upper end of your arm, and they help lift and rotate your arm. There’s also a lubricating sac called a bursa that sits between your rotator cuff and the bone on top of your shoulder, and it reduces friction as your arm moves. When your rotator cuff tendons are damaged, the bursa can get inflamed and painful, and it can become increasingly hard to use your arm properly.

You May Not Have Injured It In a Single Incident. 

So, how do rotator cuff tears happen if you don’t think you’ve ever injured your shoulder? Some rotator cuff tears develop gradually and are known as degeneration tears. These are the result of the tendons getting worn down slowly over time. That can happen if you’ve done a lot of certain sports like baseball, tennis, swimming, football, or weight lifting, and it can happen if you’ve had a job that requires repetitive shoulder motion, like carpentry, house painting, or construction work. It can also happen from bone spurs or lack of good blood flow as you age.

Some rotator cuff tears can happen quite suddenly from an injury—these are ones you would probably remember. Falling down on an outstretched arm, jerking while lifting something heavy, or in combination with a dislocated shoulder or broken collarbone. You might have felt a pop or a tear, along with intense pain and weakness in that arm. It might be something that happened a while ago and that helped quicken a degeneration tear.

If you have a dull ache in your shoulder, or difficulty sleeping on the shoulder, you might have a torn rotator cuff. Read this list for other symptoms of rotator cuff tears, and check with a physiatrist if the pain doesn’t subside.