Rotator Cuff Tear
What is a Torn Rotator Cuff?
- A torn rotator cuff is a common injury that weakens the shoulder and makes daily activities difficult and painful. The arm is kept in the shoulder by the rotator cuff, four muscles that come together as tendons and form a covering around the head of the humerus bone. It attaches the humerus to the shoulder blade and assists in lifting and rotating the arm. There can be partial or complete tears of the rotator cuff depending on whether the soft tissue is damaged or completely severed.
What causes a torn rotator cuff?
- The rotator cuff can be torn either through injury or natural degradation with age (most commonly in the dominant arm). Individuals over the age of 40 are at a greater risk as well as athletes (tennis, rowing, weightlifting) and those who do repetitive overhead work. The most common injury is falling onto an outstretched arm or trying to lift something too heavy; the rotator cuff can also be torn in other injuries like a dislocated shoulder. If there is a tear in one shoulder, there is increased likelihood of it in the opposite shoulder. Other risk factors include a lack of blood supply in tendons and arthritic bone spurs rubbing on the rotator cuff tendon.
What are the symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff?
- You may have a torn rotator cuff if you experience pain while trying to rest, especially if lying on the injured shoulder. You may also experience pain or weakness when lifting or rotating the arm, or a grating/cracking sound when moving the shoulder in certain positions. Sudden tears usually are accompanied by a snapping sensation and immediate weakness in the upper arm. Some tears may not be painful but can still result in weakness and other symptoms.
How is a Torn Rotator Cuff treated?
- For about 80% of patients, nonsurgical treatment can help with pain relief and regaining function. Resting the affected shoulder/arm, modifying activity to avoid stress on the arm, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories), physical therapy, and steroid injection are nonsurgical treatment options. If symptoms still persist after a period of 6-12 months or the tear is too large, surgery can be performed to reattach the tendon to the head of the humerus. Partial tears may only need a trimming procedure called a debridement while severe tears can require joint replacement surgery. Consult with your orthopaedic specialist for the best surgery options.