woman's hand on shoulder

Shoulder Conditions: Rotator Cuff Injuries and Dislocations

The arm bone is connected to the shoulder bone—unless it becomes dislocated. Dislocations and rotator cuff tears are just two of several conditions that can affect the shoulders. And the good news is both conditions are often able to be treated without surgery. If surgery is needed, an orthopedic surgeon can often repair it arthroscopically—using tiny incisions that allow a shorter recovery time and faster healing.

Rotator Cuff Injury

The muscles and tendons around the shoulder joint are called the rotator cuff and they keep the arm bone in place in the shoulder socket. Rotator cuff tears are common in those over the age of sixty. Injuries to the rotator cuff may be caused by an injury or by wear and tear of the tendon. Repetitive motions, such as painting or swimming, can also cause rotator cuff problems.

Shoulder specialist Michelle Linz, Occupational Therapist, explained, “A rotator cuff injury may show up as weakness in the arm or a dull shoulder ache that often disturbs sleep. Simple tasks, even brushing your hair or getting dressed, may become difficult.”

Occupational therapy along with exercises to assist with strength and flexibility can often treat rotator cuff conditions. If the pain persists after six months of treatment, surgery may be required.

Shoulder Dislocation

When a shoulder becomes dislocated, the upper arm bone slips out of the shoulder socket. A dislocation occurs when a strong force pulls the bones out of place. Because the shoulder is so flexible, it can dislocate in many different directions—forward, backward, downward and either fully or partially dislocated.

Causes of shoulder dislocation include sports injuries, a motor vehicle accident, or a fall that may dislocate the shoulder. This may lead to torn cartilage or rotator cuff tendons that normally reinforce the shoulder, additional damage to bones or nerves in the shoulder area, or an unstable shoulder joint that may re-injure more easily in the future.


Arthroscopy is often used to diagnose and treat joint problems such as rotator cuff tears or shoulder dislocation. An arthroscope is a narrow tube with a tiny fiber-optic camera. It is inserted through a buttonhole-sized incision, which allows me to see the joint without needing a larger incision. Some damage can then be repaired arthroscopically using narrow surgical instruments that are inserted into tiny, adjacent incisions. These instruments are guided by the view inside the joint on a high-definition video monitor.

If you have shoulder pain or concerns with your range of motion, don’t wait—it may escalate further or prolong your discomfort. Contact your provider for an evaluation and treatment plan.

How Therapy Services Can Help – With or Without Surgery

Involving therapy early on following an injury to the shoulder versus only pursuing injections or pain medication can help manage symptoms by starting with safe exercises that will promote proper movement.

Occupational therapy is an integral part of the recovery process following shoulder surgery,” said Linz. “It will help with your pain as well as restore mobility, strength, and function for the best possible outcome,” she explained.

For more on how occupational therapy services can assist with or without surgery, read Is Your Shoulder Ready For Summer’s (Social Distance) Activities?