Most people take for granted the flexibility and range of motion of their shoulders. You generally don’t have to think too much about raising your arm to point at something or reach above your head. But when you injure your rotator cuff, you realize how a shoulder injury can affect just about every aspect of your life, including your job.
The most common type of shoulder injury involves the rotator cuff. You can injure this part of your shoulder in many ways, but work-related rotator cuff injuries often happen to people who have to keep their arms over their heads for extended periods of time. Jerking motions and lifting heavy objects are also common causes of rotator cuff injuries.
Collectively, your rotator cuff consists of four muscles and the tendons that connect them to the top of the shoulder and the upper arm bone. These tendons and muscles stabilize your shoulder joint and allow it to move with significant range — more so, for example, than your knee joints. Injuries to the rotator cuff, including tears and tendonitis, can affect your life in ways you may not expect.
How do rotator cuff injuries happen?
Many rotator cuff injuries occur gradually over time. Repeated stress on the shoulder — which is what happens with many work-related injuries — can cause the tendons to become irritated, resulting in tendonitis. Stress might also put so much pressure on the tendons that they gradually fray and wear down. This can result in either a partial or full tear of one of the rotator cuff tendons.
An acute injury (i.e., one that occurs suddenly) can also cause tears of the rotator cuff. For example, if you were to fall and dislocate your shoulder, that could stretch your rotator cuff tendons to the breaking point. You could also tear a rotator cuff acutely by trying to lift something heavy.
Be sure to tell your employer and doctor exactly where the pain is
A lot of people think they have injured their shoulders when they feel shooting pain down their arm. However, sometimes the structural damage is really to the neck and not the shoulder. So it’s important to be as detailed as possible when telling your employer and the doctor about your injury. Try to be as clear as possible about where the pain is originating from, where it is going to, and the symptoms you are having. Those may include numbness and tingling, shooting pain, or burning. The doctor can then determine the correct body part that is actually injured, and how best to treat the injury.
If you tell your employer that you hurt your shoulder, but it really is a neck injury with pain radiating through the shoulder down the arm, the insurance company may not want to cover the neck when that is the real injured body part.
Effects of rotator cuff injuries go beyond the workplace
A rotator cuff injury can cause debilitating pain that affects your ability to work, as well as your ability to enjoy life. The pain can make it difficult to lie in bed in a position that is comfortable for you, and that means you may not be able to get the sleep you need.
If you enjoy participating in sports or other physical activities, a rotator cuff tear can prevent you from doing this. Lifting your arm to perform simple activities of daily living, such as putting on a T-shirt or combing your hair, can become unbearably painful due to a rotator cuff tear.
Workers’ compensation for shoulder injuries
Georgia workers’ comp covers shoulder injuries, including rotator cuff tears. As soon as you know you’ve suffered a work-related injury, you should report it to your employer. Unfortunately, even if it’s obvious that the injury is work-related, you may encounter obstacles when trying to get all the workers’ comp benefits you need. For more on getting compensation for medical care, lost wages and other costs of the injury, please see our overview of workers’ comp benefits in Georgia.
Our workers’ compensation FAQ also provides great information.