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Wei Zhao, LAc, CMD
Rotator Cuff Injuries
Wei Z. Zhao, CMD

Rotator Cuff Injuries

The rotator cuff is made up of four tendons that attach around the head of the upper arm bone (humerus). The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. The ball-shaped end of the humerus fits into a very shallow socket (glenoid), which allows the shoulder joint tremendous range of motion that can result in the tendency to dislocate if the ligaments are injured. The rotator cuff tendons do not have much room under the acromion of the scapula. This frequently leads to tendonitis, tears of the rotator cuff, and inflammation of the subacromial bursa (bursitis).
Muscle around the shoulder joint allows everyday repetitive motions like scratching behind your head or back, painting, using hand tools, reaching and lifting overhead. They are used extensively in athletic activities like throwing a ball, serving a tennis ball and driving a golf ball. Thus, chronic wear and tear or a fall or collision can cause injury to the rotator cuff.
Injury to the rotator cuff is divided into three stages. Stage one is simply inflammation. Repetitive overhead use of the arm may cause rotator cuff irritation. Stage two is inflammation with scarring. The thickened tendon must still fit in the small space allowed for it, so the tendon begins to rub more consistently and become painful. Stage three is an actual rotator cuff tear where there is noticeable weakness and pain in the shoulder. Common symptoms may include pain in the front, side, back or deep inside the shoulder, especially with overhead movements. Putting on a bra, shirt or coat may be painful.
Its common for a patient to have intermittent shoulder pain for several years, which is not completely relieved by rest and anti-inflammatory medication. Clinically, many people still experience shoulder pain even after they receive surgery.
Shoulder pain in traditional Chinese medicine is classified as painful obstruction syndrome, which indicates external wind that permits cold and dampness to invade the body. This obstructs the channels, impacting energy and blood circulation. The invasion of external factors occurs due to a weak body condition and an opening between the skin and muscle, which allows the wind to penetrate.
There are five classifications of painful obstruction syndrome 1.Wind painful obstruction syndrome – pain moving from joint to joint 2. Damp painful obstruction – fixed pain with soreness, heaviness, numbness and swelling of the joints. 3. Cold painful obstruction syndrome – severe pain in one joint. 4. Heat painful obstruction syndrome – very severe pain, and hot-red swollen joint. 5. Bony painful obstruction syndrome – painful joints with swelling and bone deformities.
The aim of treatment is to expel the wind, cold and dampness, which have invaded the channels, remove local stagnation of energy and blood in the channels, and relieve pain. The acupuncture points chosen depend on the channel associated with the pain as well as the location of the tenderness points. Techniques will be used to help patients move the arm by themselves. For example, needle the distal points, then move the patients arm using the hand as support. Its also essential to strengthen the bodys defensive function to slow the disease progress.
Combining acupuncture, therapeutic massage and herbs is effective for a wide range of injuries, including rotator cuff injuries, and normally give good results in both acute and chronic cases. Its a safe and natural way to improve your shoulder function and quality of life, too.

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