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Rotator Cuff Tears: How They Happen and What You Can Do About Them

Rotator cuff tears are among the most common injuries affecting the shoulder, leading to pain, weakness, and reduced mobility. Whether they occur due to a sports injury, traumatic accident or natural wear and tear, there are treatments available to help improve shoulder function and reduce pain. 


What Are Rotator Cuff Tears?

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint and enable a wide range of arm movements. A tear can occur in any of these tendons, affecting your ability to move your arm and carry out daily activities.

How Rotator Cuff Tears Happen

Acute Tears

Acute rotator cuff tears result from sudden, traumatic incidents, such as lifting a heavy object incorrectly or falling on an outstretched arm. Athletes participating in sports like baseball, tennis, or weightlifting are particularly susceptible to this type of injury.

Degenerative Tears

More commonly, rotator cuff tears develop gradually due to wear and tear over time. Aging, repetitive stress, and decreased blood supply contribute to tendon degeneration, making them more prone to tearing. Degenerative tears are more frequent in individuals over the age of 40.

Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear

Identifying a rotator cuff tear early can significantly improve the outcome. Key symptoms include:

  • Persistent shoulder pain, especially at night
  • Weakness in the arm when lifting or rotating the shoulder
  • A crackling sensation (crepitus) when moving the shoulder in certain ways
  • Difficulty performing overhead activities or reaching behind the back

Diagnosing Rotator Cuff Tears

Diagnosis involves a physical examination, during which your doctor will assess pain, range of motion, and arm strength. Imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRIs, are often used to confirm the diagnosis and determine the tear’s severity.

Treatment Options

Non-surgical Treatments

Many rotator cuff tears can be managed without surgery. Treatment plans typically include:

  • Rest and Activity Modification: Avoiding activities that aggravate the shoulder can help reduce symptoms.
  • Physical Therapy: Strengthening and flexibility exercises can restore function and alleviate pain.
  • Medications: Anti-inflammatory drugs can help manage pain and swelling.
  • Injections: Corticosteroid injections may be recommended to reduce severe inflammation.

Surgical Treatments

Surgery may be necessary for complete tears or if non-surgical treatments fail to improve symptoms. Surgical options include:

  • Arthroscopic Repair: Minimally invasive surgery to reattach the torn tendon to the bone.
  • Open Repair: A more traditional surgery used for large or complex tears.
  • Tendon Transfer: In cases where the torn tendon cannot be repaired, a nearby tendon may be used as a substitute.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Recovery from a rotator cuff tear varies depending on the severity of the tear and the treatment method. Physical therapy is a crucial component of the recovery process, helping to regain strength and mobility in the shoulder. Full recovery from surgery can take several months, during which time patients gradually return to their normal activities under the guidance of their healthcare provider.

Preventing Rotator Cuff Tears

Preventative measures include regular shoulder-strengthening exercises, proper lifting techniques, and avoiding repetitive overhead activities that strain the shoulder.

Struggling with Shoulder Pain? Let Motion Orthopaedics Help

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain or suspect a rotator cuff tear, don’t wait to seek professional advice. The team at Motion Orthopaedics is equipped to diagnose and treat a wide range of shoulder conditions, offering both non-surgical and surgical solutions tailored to your needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and start your journey to recovery.

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