A rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and their tendons located in your shoulder. They provide strength and flexibility to the entire shoulder and are key players in almost every type of shoulder movement. Whether due to a sports injury, an accident or degeneration over the years, one or more of the tendons in the rotator cuff can suffer a partial or full-thickness tear.
This painful condition is quite common and treatable. If you suspect that you may have a torn rotator cuff, here are the signs to look out for and the next steps you should take.
Common Symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff
Your shoulder joint sees a lot of wear and tear through the years. From reaching to grab items out of high cabinets to brushing your hair, you use the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff every day. By the time you're 40 years old, you're already at a higher risk of a torn rotator cuff due to years of use.
Athletes who put repetitive stress on this joint, such as baseball pitchers and tennis players, are especially prone to injury. At any age, however, an accident like falling on your outstretched arm can cause a tear to the cuff.
If a cuff tear happens suddenly, the symptoms of damage may be more obvious. However, cuff tears that develop slowly due to overuse can take longer for symptoms to develop. Here are some of the most common signs to look out for:
- Mild to moderate pain in your shoulder when you lift your arm
- Severe pain, even when your arm is at rest
- Pain that moves down your arm
- Weakness of the arm
- A crackling sensation when moving the shoulder to certain positions
- Loss of movement or limited range of motion
- Difficulty sleeping on the affected shoulder
How Are Cuff Tears Diagnosed?
The best way to determine whether or not your rotator cuff is torn is to visit an orthopedic surgeon. Your surgeon will go over your medical history and examine the shoulder, checking for pain, deformity and range of motion. This examination rules out any other conditions, such as a pinched nerve or arthritis.
Your surgeon will then use imaging tests to confirm your diagnosis, such as ultrasound, X-rays, arthrography or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs tend to provide the best view of rotator cuff tears.
Steps to Recovery
Ignoring a rotator cuff tear and continuing to use your shoulder as usual may cause further damage. Treatment is essential to ensure the cuff tear doesn't get any larger. The goal of your treatment will be to reduce pain and restore full function to your shoulder.
Many patients recover and return to their normal lifestyles after using minimally invasive, non-surgical techniques. Treatment might include the following:
- Rest and avoiding certain activities
- Physical therapy and strengthening exercises
- The use of a shoulder sling
- Over-the-counter drugs, like ibuprofen, to reduce pain and swelling
- Steroid and local anesthetic injections to decrease pain and inflammation
If your pain doesn't improve with non-surgical methods or your condition requires a more active solution, your surgeon may recommend arthroscopic rotator cuff surgery. During this procedure, your surgeon increases the space for the rotator cuff tendons and reattaches the tendons to the shoulder bone.
Schedule Your Appointment With Dr. Gombera to Learn If You Have a Cuff Tear
If you're struggling with shoulder pain and you think you may have a torn rotator cuff, don't wait to seek treatment. Schedule your appointment with Dr. Mufaddal Gombera. Our Houston based practice specializes in shoulder pain and torn rotator cuffs, providing exceptional care based on the latest evidence-based treatments. Give us a call at (713) 794-3457 to learn more.