A rotator cuff tear is a common shoulder injury that doesn’t always have obvious symptoms. Sometimes it might cause pain, but other times symptoms may present as weakness in the shoulder or poor shoulder mobility. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what this injury is and how to treat it before it turns into something more serious.
What is a Rotator Cuff?
Your rotator cuff is a group of four muscles that come together as tendons to form a covering around the head of your upper arm bone (the humerous). The top of the humerous fits into a shallow socket in the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff attaches the humerous to the shoulder blade and helps to lift and rotate your arm.
What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?
There are two types of rotator cuff tear:
- A partial tear is when one of the muscles that form the rotator cuff is frayed or damaged.
- A complete tear is one that goes all the way through the tendon or pulls the tendon off the bone.
Either type of rotator cuff injury can occur due to normal wear and tear over a person’s lifetime. Those whose occupation requires repetitive arm motions or athletes who play sports such as tennis or baseball may be at increased risk for rotator cuff tears. Of course, you could also experience a tear more suddenly if you lift something that’s too heavy or fall on your arm, for example.
What are the Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Injury?
You may not always feel pain right away, so it’s important to pay attention to these other more subtle symptoms of a torn rotator cuff:
- Difficulty raising your arm
- Shoulder weakness
- Clicking or popping sounds when you move your arm
- Inability to lift things like you used to
- Pain in the arm when you lie on it or move it in specific ways
If you experience any of these symptoms, especially after a fall or other type of arm injury, then be sure to go see an orthopedist who specializes in sports medicine.
How is a Rotator Cuff Tear Diagnosed?
To determine if you have a torn rotator cuff, your doctor will perform a physical examination to assess your pain levels and arm mobility. If further information is needed, then your doctor may send you for an MRI, an x-ray, or an ultrasound. Each of these tests will show your doctor the extent of the damage in your shoulder and if any surrounding tissue is damaged as well.
How is a Rotator Cuff Tear Treated?
You doctor will usually start treatment with physical therapy, which can help strengthen your shoulder muscles. You may also take over-the-counter pain medications and anti-inflammatory drugs as directed by your doctor.
Is Rotator Cuff Tear Surgery Required?
If these non-invasive treatments don’t work, then your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the tear or reattach the tendon to the bone.
There are three types of rotator cuff surgery:
- Arthroscopic: This type of surgery enables your surgeon to repair the tear via a few small incisions and tiny instruments. This can help reduce your recovery time.
- Open: This is the traditional type of surgery where your surgeon must cut into the muscle to access and repair the damage. This is usually required when there’s extensive damage to the rotator cuff and surrounding tissue.
- Mini-Open: Basically, a combination of arthroscopic and open surgical methods, which may also help reduce recover time.
What Will Recovery from Rotator Cuff Surgery Look Like?
After rotator cuff tear surgery, you’ll wear a sling for 4 to 6 weeks. Your doctor may recommend that you do the following to help your recovery:
- Take the sling off several times a day and move your elbow, wrist, and hand to increase blood flow to those areas. DO NOT lift your arm at the shoulder until your doctor says it’s okay to do so.
- Apply an ice pack to your shoulder for 10 to 15 minutes every 1 to 2 hours to reduce pain and swelling.
- Be patient. If you had extensive damage, it may take a full year until you regain full use of your shoulder. Of course, you could recover more quickly, if the surgery was minor.
If you are experiencing shoulder pain, or you think you might have a rotator cuff tear, then contact Dr. James Parolie at Somerset Orthopedic & Sports Medicine. Dr. Parolie specializes in sports injuries and arthroscopic surgery. Call 908-425-4990 to schedule an appointment today.