I'm not a particularly active or athletic "senior" so I was surprised when my doctor told me my shoulder pain is from a rotator cuff tear. How could I have torn it when I don't lift weights or play tennis or any of the other things that usually cause this kind of injury?
You may have what's called a degenerative rotator cuff tear. Thinning and tearing of the rotator cuff associated with aging is fairly common. Then with only a minor amount of trauma, a fall, or eve no trauma at all (just daily use of the arm), a tiny tear progresses from small to large or from a partial to full-thickness tear.
Efforts are underway to study rotator cuff tears more thoroughly in the senior population. Finding out where the tears start might help surgeons design prevention programs -- or change the way surgery is done. There's some speculation that instead of waiting for the tears to progress, surgery to repair the tiny defects might be a better approach.
It's possible that seniors who do not engage in strength training of the rotator cuff are at increased risk of tears. Loss of muscle bulk to protect the tendons could lead to fat infiltrating the muscle. The lack of specific exercises to tone and strengthen the shoulder might actually be a risk factor in this case.
H. Mike Kim, MD, et al. Location and Initiation of Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tears. An Analysis of Three Hundred and Sixty Shoulders. In The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery. May 2010. Vol. 92-A. No. 5. Pp. 1088-1096.
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