Weakness is often pain’s evil twin. When your shoulder is painful, weakness usually follows. This makes sense. The more painful your shoulder is, the less you want to move it. The less you move any muscle, the more it shrinks. The more the muscle shrinks, the weaker you get.
Remember also that weakness is a symptom, not a cause. Symptoms can have many causes. Discerning the true cause of your weakness will likely require investigation.
Commonly, rotator cuff muscles weaken when you have shoulder tendinitis or bursitis. This is why we often prescribe physical therapy for these conditions.
One of the most common causes of structural weakness in the shoulder is a rotator cuff tear. “Structural” weakness implies a physical disruption in the mechanical fibers of the tissues. I describe rotator cuff tears elsewhere. But I will address a few things here on weakness in the rotator cuff about which people often ask.
Briefly, the rotator cuff muscles help keep the humerus centered in the socket and are important for rotating your shoulder as well as elevating your arm. A full detachment of the muscle from the bone can lead to atrophy and weakness.
The goal of surgery to fix a torn rotator cuff tendon is to halt the atrophy and strengthen the cuff muscles back to their original state. This is not always possible. But restoring the tendon back to its original position after a tear may give you the best chance at this.
Some people that live with full rotator cuff tears for long periods of time never get full strength back after rehabilitation or repair. Others adapt to the strength loss with other muscle groups. It’s hard to know who will ultimately adapt to their weakness and who won’t. We know that younger patients (50’s and younger) and people who do heavy labor for a living tend not to adapt to the weakness as well.
Regardless, weakness is a symptom that has many causes. Getting it checked out by a specialist will get you to the root cause efficiently. Then you will know whether it’s a problem that can be cured by exercise alone or whether more involved treatment is warranted.
If your shoulder is weak and you are looking to get to the root cause of the weakness Dr. DiPaola may be able help. A consultation can help you pinpoint the origin of your weak shoulder and get you on the road to recovery.