A rotator cuff tear is a common injury that can cause pain, stiffness, and weakness in the shoulder. If you have a rotator cuff tear, it can make normal day to day activities, such as getting dressed or washing your hair, painful and difficult. Early treatment can prevent symptoms from getting worse, reduce the chances of further damage, and make your recovery much quicker.
The Rotator Cuff
The rotator cuff is made up of a network of muscles and tendons which form a “cuff” over the head of the humerus (upper arm bone), keeping it firmly in place within the shallow socket of the shoulder. The rotator cuff helps to control movements, such as lifting and rotating your arm, and keeps your shoulder joint secure.
A rotator cuff tear happens when one or more of the tendons is torn and is no longer fully attached to the head of the humerus. This can be caused by trauma such as a bad fall or due to repetitive movements that lead to an overuse injury. The risk of tears also increases with aging. Rotator cuff tears are more likely to occur from playing sports such as tennis, baseball, or swimming and in jobs that involve repetitive overhead arm movements or heavy lifting.
Depending on the severity of the tear, your physician will be able to advise on the best course of treatment. Some tears can be treated effectively with non-surgical methods including:
- Rest and limiting overhead arm movements
- Medication/corticosteroid injections to reduce pain and swelling
- Wearing a sling intermittently to rest the shoulder (excessive wear can make the shoulder stiff)
- Applying ice in 15-20 minute intervals
- Physical and occupational therapy to restore strength and function
Rotator Cuff Repair Surgery
Surgery is often recommended for painful, acute tears or for when non-surgical treatments have been unsuccessful. The type of surgery will depend on the size, shape, and location of your tear. Surgical procedures have become less invasive, resulting in good outcomes and improved recovery times.
Partial rotator cuff tears may only require a debridement procedure which simply trims the tendon and removes the damaged tissue. For complex tears, surgery is required to reattach the tendon to the upper arm bone. Sometimes an acromioplasty is performed at the same time as the surgery, to remove bone spurs from the surface of the bone (acromion) which may be causing friction or damage to the tendon.
A complete recovery can take a few months following surgery, and rehabilitation is key to a successful outcome.
Following surgery, you will feel pain which is a natural part of the healing process – you will get medication to reduce pain symptoms. Arm movements will need to be restricted to allow the tendon to heal, and you will need to wear an arm sling for around four to six weeks to protect the shoulder and keep it still.
After a period of rest, passive exercise with an occupational or physical therapist will help restore function in the shoulder. Your therapist will gently support your arm and move it into different positions to help improve the range of motion in your arm and shoulder. Therapy will then gradually progress to strengthening exercises, and a customized exercise program will help improve arm control, movement, and increase strength.
Recovery time will depend on the extent of your condition and the type of surgery you had, but most patients regain functional movement and strength within a few months and achieve good results overall. Your surgeon will discuss this with you, and let you know what to expect.
Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment in North Dakota
If you have suffered an injury or are experiencing shoulder pain, contact The Bone & Joint Center. Our expert team have substantial experience at diagnosing and treating all types of shoulder pain and other orthopedic conditions, and we specialize in all aspects of surgical and non-surgical care.