The rotator cuff has the job of keeping the ball at the end of your upper arm bone in the socket of your shoulder blade. It's comprised of several muscles and tendons and allows your shoulder to be flexible. A rotator cuff tear is characterised by the tendons pulling away from the ball at the end of your upper arm. A tear can be partial or complete and can occur due to overuse or an underlying injury putting stress on your shoulder. Those who play sports or have jobs that require repetitive shoulder movements are at an increased risk of developing a rotator cuff tear, but poor posture and a family history of this type of injury also make you susceptible to developing a tear.
Symptoms Of A Rotator Cuff Tear
A rotator cuff teat can happen suddenly or develop gradually, so you may experience a sudden, sharp pain in your shoulder that persists, or you may experience niggling mild pain that slowly intensifies over time. Other symptoms of this type of injury include localised muscle weakness, difficulty raising your arm above shoulder height, and experiencing a popping or clicking sensation when moving your shoulder.
Diagnosing And Treating A Rotator Cuff Tear
Your doctor will diagnose a rotator cuff tear by carrying out a physical examination, which will include gently manipulating your arm to assess the range of motion in your shoulder. You will also be referred for diagnostic imaging, such as an X-ray or MRI scan, to assess joint health and confirm the presence of tears along the tendons.
Rotator cuff tears don't tend to improve without treatment, so your doctor will recommend a course of treatment based on the severity of the tear. Treatment may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories or steroid injections to reduce pain and swelling, which can aid healing. You may also be referred to a physiotherapist to learn some appropriate shoulder strengthening exercises. When rest and conservative treatment measures haven't been successful, your doctor may recommend surgery to reattach the tendon. Surgery is generally carried out as a day case procedure and uses keyhole surgical techniques to minimise scarring. Your arm will be immobilised for a few weeks post-surgery, but surgery has a high success rate. In order to reduce the chance of a recurrence, you should work with a physiotherapist after your recovery to learn how to best keep your shoulder muscles and tendons flexible and strong.
If you have symptoms associated with a rotator cuff tear or another kind of shoulder injury, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can to reduce the risk of the tear worsening.