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Shouldering the Pain: Rotator Cuff Tears and Job Risks in New Jersey

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Every job has its challenges, but some professions place a unique strain on the shoulders, resulting in partial or full rotator cuff tears. The rotator cuff, a vital ensemble of tendons and muscles in our shoulder, plays a crucial role in our daily tasks, yet it’s vulnerable to injuries. In New Jersey, numerous workers grapple with the debilitating effects of a torn rotator cuff on the job. This guide will address the details of the rotator cuff, including its essential structure, spotlight the signs of damage, and highlight the jobs that are often in the line of fire.

Rotator cuff highlighted in orange against the blue backdrop of the human anatomy, including upper torso

Rotator Cuff 101: The Powerhouse Behind
Every Shoulder Movement

Imagine the rotator cuff as the ropes used to turn a ship’s wheel. Each rope is vital for the smooth functioning of the ship’s direction. Similarly, the rotator cuff has four “ropes” or tendons, each tied to a specific muscle. Together, they ensure the smooth movement and stability of the shoulder. The ship’s direction might falter if even one rope is damaged or frayed. Similarly, an injury to even one part of the rotator cuff can affect the entire shoulder’s function in the form of a partial or full-thickness tear to the rotator cuff

Now, imagine Carter, a warehouse worker in New Jersey. Every day, he’s lifting heavy boxes overhead and stocking shelves. It’s much work for his shoulders! One day, he feels a sharp pain while reaching for a box on a high shelf. The box slips, and he barely catches it.  Carter’s shoulder doesn’t feel right, and moving his arm is painful. Carter may not realize that this strain, repeated overhead lifting, can hurt those “ropes” in his rotator cuff. Over time, they can fray or even tear.

The rotator cuff is located in our shoulder and comprises four main muscles and their attached tendons. These are:

  • Supraspinatus: Assists in lifting the arm.

 

  • Infraspinatus & Teres Minor: Aid in rotating and lifting the arm.

 

  • Subscapularis: Helps with arm rotation, holding the upper arm in place.

 

When these muscles and tendons work together, they allow our shoulder to perform a marvelous range of motions. The rotator cuff is involved in everything from reaching up to grab a jar off a high shelf to swinging a tennis racket or simply waving hello.  We use our shoulders for even the most basic activities of daily living.

Apart from mobility, the rotator cuff also provides strength. Think about carrying a heavy grocery bag or lifting a child into the air – such actions heavily rely on a healthy, functioning rotator cuff. The tendons and muscles act as stabilizers, holding the ball of the upper arm bone firmly within the small socket of the shoulder blade. This stability is crucial; simple tasks could lead to dislocations or other injuries.

But it’s not just about motion and power. The rotator cuff also plays a protective role. It shields the main shoulder joint, ensuring the bones don’t rub against each other, preventing painful wear and tear.

While the rotator cuff might be a small part of our body, it’s monumental in its role. It ensures our shoulder remains one of the most versatile and robust joints we possess, enabling countless daily tasks and activities for workers in New Jersey. 

How the Workplace Puts the Rotator Cuff at Risk

A seasoned construction worker, Joe was no stranger to aches and pains. But when he raised his arm to catch a falling tool, a sharp pain, unlike any other shot through his shoulder. Lifting his coffee mug the following day was an ordeal, and his shoulder also felt stiff. When he tried to reach behind his back, a twinge stopped him. Even resting, there was a dull ache.

Jobs demanding repetitive overhead movements – think painters, electricians, or warehouse workers stacking high shelves – especially tax the rotator cuff, resulting in partial or full tears. Every time you reach up or lift something heavy, these tendons and muscles stretch and strain. Over time, this wear and tear can lead to micro-tears, inflammation, or even a complete or partial tear.

Accidents, too, are culprits. A sudden jolt, fall, or heavy impact can put immense pressure on the rotator cuff, causing instant injury.

If you’re like Joe and notice symptoms such as:

  • Pain at rest or at night, especially when lying on the affected shoulder.

 

  • Pain when lifting and lowering the arm or with specific movements.

 

  • Weakness when lifting or rotating the arm.

 

  • Crackling sensation when moving the shoulder in certain positions.

 

It is vital to:

  • Listen to Your Body: Don’t brush off these symptoms. Pain is your body’s way of waving a red flag.

 

  • Limit Overhead Tasks: If possible, alternate tasks throughout the day to give your shoulder a break.

 

  • Seek Medical Attention: Early detection can prevent more severe issues.

 

  • Speak to Your Supervisor: Consider discussing ergonomic adjustments that can be made at your workplace to reduce strain.

 

  • Stay Informed: Knowing about potential risks in your job can help you take preventive measures.

 

Shoulder health is paramount. By being proactive and aware, you can protect your rotator cuff and ensure it serves you well for years to come.

Injured worker rests against site wall while rubbing shoulder after trying to move a piece of scaffolding out of the way of others

Jobs on the Frontline of Rotator Cuff Risks

Certain professions inherently carry a higher risk of rotator cuff injuries due to their nature. Highlighting a few key ones will offer a more precise picture:

Construction Workers

As we’ve seen with Joe, these individuals often deal with lifting heavy objects, hammering overhead, or managing power tools at challenging angles. Their shoulders endure a lot, leading to potential strain and injury over time.

Painters

The act of painting, especially ceilings or tall walls, requires constant upward strokes. This repetitive reaching and stretching can wear down even the hardiest rotator cuffs over time.

Warehouse Workers

The routine of lifting heavy boxes, mainly from higher shelves, can result in wear and tear on the rotator cuff. It’s not just the weight but the repetitive nature of the task that poses the risk.

Electricians

Frequently reaching overhead to manage wires or install fixtures can put undue stress on shoulder tendons, making them prone to injury.

Manufacturing Workers

Many manufacturing roles involve repetitive movements or maintaining the same posture for prolonged periods. Whether assembling products, reaching for components, or using heavy machinery, the shoulder often bears the brunt of these actions.

Law Enforcement

Police officers and other law enforcement personnel often undergo rigorous physical training, engage in sudden, intense physical activities, and sometimes wrestle or restrain suspects. These actions can exert substantial pressure on the rotator cuff.

Firefighters and First Responders

When seconds matter, these heroes might find themselves forcibly breaking down doors, carrying injured individuals, or handling heavy equipment, all of which can stress the shoulder muscles and tendons.

If you’re in one of these professions, it’s even more crucial to heed the warning signs of a rotator cuff injury. Implementing regular stretches, adopting proper techniques, and ensuring regular medical check-ups can vastly help in injury prevention and early detection. Knowledge is power; understanding the specific demands of your job and its potential risks can guide you in taking the necessary precautions.

Infographic Summary of Article

Key facts on rotator cuff tears and lists of jobs at risks on rotator cuff injury

"I've had so many injuries."

Rotator Cuff Recovery: Navigating New Jersey's
Workers Compensation Landscape

The journey of understanding, treating, and navigating a work injury resulting in a rotator cuff tear can be complex. But remember, New Jersey’s workers’ compensation system is designed to protect and assist workers facing rotator cuff tears.  With its nuanced laws and provisions, navigating the work injury system in New Jersey alone can be challenging. That’s where the expertise of New Jersey work injury lawyer John F. Renner can be invaluable. With over 25 years of dedicated experience in the field, John F. Renner advocates for injured workers to receive the compensation they deserve. Shoulder injuries may be daunting, but with the right guidance, securing your rights doesn’t have to be. Call his office now at (856) 596-8000.

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About the Author

John F. Renner is the founding attorney and principal of John F. Renner P.C. He has more than 25 years of experience representing injured workers in New Jersey. Mr. Renner guides his clients through the complex maze of New Jersey Workers Compensation Law for the best possible outcome.

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