A rotator cuff tear is a common injury that can cause pain, stiffness, and weakness in the shoulder, making normal day-to-day activities difficult. If you have a rotator cuff injury, early intervention is recommended, as delaying it would eventually lead to problems such as frozen shoulder or arthritis, which can be tougher to treat.
The Rotator Cuff
The shoulder is composed of three bones: the humerus (upper arm bone), the clavicle (collarbone), and the scapula (the shoulder blade that moves on our back). The humerus and the scapula form the main shoulder joint, known as the glenohumeral joint.
The rotator cuff is made up of four shoulder muscles and their tendons (the strong fibers that connect muscles to bones), forming a “cuff” over the head of the humerus and keeping it firmly in place within the shallow socket of the shoulder. The rotator cuff helps to control movement and perform overhead motions, such as lifting and rotating your arm while keeping the joint secure. The tendons and muscles in the rotator cuff can degenerate and weaken over time, making it susceptible to tear.
Trauma, such as a fall or even sudden shoulder movements, can lead to a rotator cuff tear, but it is more often caused by overuse and wear-and-tear. These types of injuries are more common in people who play high-intensity sports such as tennis and baseball, and those in jobs that involve repetitive arm movements such as painting or cleaning windows. As you get older, your body’s ability to repair tendons diminishes as the blood supply to them decreases, so your risk of rotator cuff damage increases.
Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear
You cannot always feel a torn rotator cuff, and some tears are not painful at all. Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear tend to develop gradually and can include the following:
- Pain in the front part of your shoulder that may radiate toward the side of your arm
- Pain when moving your arm in a particular way, such as lifting or lowering it
- Pain that gets worse over time and may be present when resting
- Shoulder stiffness
- Weakness in the shoulder and/or arm especially when your lift or rotate it.
- Difficultly moving your arm or lifting things
- A crackling, popping, or clicking noise when you move your arm
The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear caused by traumatic injury can occur suddenly. You may feel a snap and sudden pain; your arm will immediately feel weak, and you will have difficulty moving it.
Diagnosis and Treatment
To find out if you have a torn rotator cuff, your doctor will assess your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical examination. Medical images such as an X-ray, MRI, or ultrasound may also be required to assess the damage and the condition of the bones in your shoulder and to identify if arthritis or bone spurs are present.
Depending on the severity of the injury, your doctor will be able to advise on the best course of treatment. Usually rotator cuff tears can be treated effectively with non-surgical methods including the following:
- Rest and limiting overhead arm movements
- Applying ice regularly for short periods
- OTC or prescription medication to reduce pain and swelling
- Wearing a sling to help reduce symptoms
- Corticosteroid injections to reduce pain and inflammation (if other medications fail to provide relief)
- Occupational therapy to restore your ability to function and manage everyday tasks
- Physical therapyto help restore strength and function, relieve pain following a rotator cuff tear, and aid in reducing the need for surgery and/or medication.
Surgery may be recommended when non-surgical treatments have provided minimal or no relief to symptoms. It may also be recommended for painful or acute tears or for people who rely on their arm strength for work or sports. There are several types of surgeries that can be performed to resolve rotator cuff tears, depending on the size, shape, or location. Common surgical approaches include arthroscopic repair, open surgical repair, and mini-open repair.
Recovery time would depend on the extent of the injury and the type of surgery performed, but most people achieve remarkable results and regain functional movement and strength by four to six months following rotator cuff repair surgery.
Orthopedic Care in North Dakota
If you live in North Dakota and have an orthopedic concern such as a rotator cuff injury, contact the professionals at The Bone & Joint Center to receive state-of-the-art, compassionate orthopedic care. For more information or to make an appointment at one of our convenient locations, call us at (701) 946-7400 or (866) 900-8650.