• Injuries of a Certain Age: Labrum Tears vs. Rotator Cuffs

      For those of us with a few gray hairs, it’s about now in the middle of the summer that all those pickup games from May and June are starting to show their wear. An ache in the knee or a pulled bicep; these are pretty normal for an older sportsman on the weekend pitch. As frustrating as these injuries are, the real rub is how your kids can go full speed all summer long without some nagging pain to remind them of their age.

      The tortoise did beat the hare, however, so a little insight into what type of injuries we get at different ages will hopefully lead to a longer and stronger summer season. The most important place to start is with conditioning. Gentle stretching goes along with any type of cardiovascular as a good base, but with games like softball or tennis, resting and icing your favored arm will help you recover faster and guard against the chance of future strains.

      Once you start to hit middle age, those strains become measurable. The effects of age on the body are such that older athletes tend to experience bursitis and rotator cuff injuries at a much higher rate than their younger counterparts. Comparatively, younger athletes are affected by injuries such as labrum tears and other such trauma; in other words, there’s usually no doubt about the injury.

      The good news is that as long as we stay fit at any age, we can usually sweat the small stuff out with some rest and ice. But as we get older, the small stuff should still be watched. Amazingly, it’s been found that 10% of patients 50 years and older have rotator tears—and most don’t’ even realize it. At 60 years old, that percentage goes up 20%. And at 70 years old, the percentage of people with rotator cuff injuries rises to an astounding 40%.

      When a pain persists, it’s always best to see your doctor. If it’s a rotator cuff injury, a quick cortisone shot will sometimes be prescribed for the short term, while some form of physical therapy can provide for a lasting recovery. And while it’s never good to be out of the game, the recovery from a rotator cuff strain or inflamed bursa takes about as long as the recovery of a labrum tear, which often requires MRI’s, therapy, and sometimes surgery. The recovery from a full rotator cuff tear that requires surgery will put you out of the whole season.

      Staying fit and watching those aches goes a long way to staying in the game, so know your limits. Lamenting the young for their youth is as old as the hills, but that doesn’t mean you can’t compete.