Rotator Cuff Tears

Understanding Your Condition

What is a rotator cuff tear?

The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and tendons that help to stabilize your shoulder joint. The shoulder has an extensive range of motion but less stability than other joints in the body. It is made up of the upper arm bone, the shoulder blade, and the collarbone. The shoulder is also a ball-and-socket joint, and the arm is kept in the shoulder by the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff allows for lifting and rotating your arm and can impair movement if it is damaged. Damage to the rotator cuff can also lead to the bursa’s inflammation, which can affect the rotator cuff tendon’s ability to glide with arm movement. When a rotator cuff tears, the tendons pull away from the arm bone. There are two types of rotator cuff tear. A partial tear occurs when the tendon is somewhat attached to the arm bone, and a complete tear occurs when the tendon completely separates from the arm bone.

What are the causes and symptoms of rotator cuff tears?

Over two million Americans experience a rotator cuff tear every year. Falls, breaks, and other accidents can result in a rotator cuff tear. However, a more common cause of the injury is wear and tear due to age or use. Other causes include bone spurs or a decrease in blood flow to the rotator cuff. Those who smoke, are over forty years of age, and those with a family history of rotator cuff tears are more likely to experience this injury. Rotator cuff injuries resulting in degenerative tears are often common among carpenters, mechanics, painters, and athletes. Tears tend to occur on the dominant side but can occur in either shoulder.

Symptoms of a tear include immediate and intense pain. Those who suffer from degenerative tears may experience pain that worsens over time. Patients may have difficulty raising an arm, experience a popping or clicking sound when moving the arm, have shoulder pain that worsens at night, or notice weakness when struggling to lift certain items.

How are rotator cuff tears diagnosed and treated?

A healthcare provider will take a history and perform a physical exam to properly diagnose a rotator cuff tear. Imaging such as X-ray and MRI may be helpful to establish the diagnosis. Nonsurgical treatments include arm slings, NSAIDs, physical therapy, and steroid injections. If the patient has an acute complete tear or nonsurgical treatments are ineffective, then surgery may be recommended.

Make an appointment with Mobility Bone & Joint Institute to understand your options. Please call (978) 794-1946 or (603) 898-2244 immediately to schedule an appointment or take advantage of our walk-in clinic in Haverhill and Andover Monday – Friday 8am-12pm and 1pm-3pm.

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