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Rotator Cuff

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What Is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

A rotator cuff tear occurs when one or more of the four tendons that hold your upper arm bone (humerus) in place within the shoulder becomes partially or fully torn. This injury can develop suddenly (acute) or gradually (degenerative or chronic). In many cases, the affected tendon will begin to fray before becoming detached. Examples of causes of this type of degeneration include repetitive stress, lack of blood supply to the area, and bone spurs. Acute causes, on the other hand, typically include falling on an outstretched arm, lifting a too-heavy object with a jerking motion, or injuring another related body part such as the collarbone or shoulder. Rotator cuff tears can limit function, cause discomfort, and reduce quality of life. Other symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:

  • Pain while resting or during the night, particularly while lying on the affected shoulder
  • Pain when lifting and lowering your arm, or with other specific movements
  • Weakness when lifting or rotating your arm
  • A crackling or crunching (crepitus) sensation when moving the shoulder in certain ways

If you’re experiencing these symptoms or another kind of shoulder discomfort, our extensively trained orthopaedic surgeons may be able to help. Our medical team is dedicated to providing exceptional care, and we emphasize a conservative approach that prioritizes minimally invasive techniques. In the event surgery is recommended, our surgeons have specialized training in arthroscopic surgery and other advanced treatment methods.

Rotator Cuff Repair

It’s important to limit use of the affected arm if you suspect you have a rotator cuff tear, as this may worsen the pain and/or the damage. Rotator cuff tears can become larger or more severe over time, so treatment should be sought out when you detect an issue. At our state-of-the-art practice, we utilize a wide range of tried-and-true and innovative techniques. The primary goal is to reduce discomfort and improve motion, and in many cases our medical team can achieve this without the need for surgery. If an operation is necessary, our minimally invasive procedures are designed to decrease downtime and enhance healing.

Non-Surgical Rotator Cuff Repair

In up to 80 percent of cases, non-surgical rotator cuff treatment is effective at reducing pain and increasing motion. Some examples of non-surgical therapies are:

  • Rest
  • Activity Modification
  • Physical Therapy and Strengthening Exercises
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medication
  • Steroid Injections

Surgical Rotator Cuff Repair

If severe, chronic pain is an issue, surgery may be advised. Additionally, if you participate in sports or have job duties that require lifting your arms over your head often, an operation may also be the best option. Surgical repair of a rotator cuff involves re-attaching the tendon to the head of the humerus. This usually can be done using arthroscopic surgery, which requires smaller incisions and can reduce downtime. Whether this technique is right for you will depend on the degree of damage and if there are other injuries present.

Recovery Following Rotator Cuff Repair

Some discomfort is normal following a rotator cuff operation, and we will manage your pain with prescribed medication to help you heal as quickly and comfortably as possible. Part of your recovery will be physical rehabilitation, which includes stretches and exercises to slowly increase your mobility and strength. Initially, however, you will wear a sling and a shoulder immobilizer to protect the tendon as it heals. This immobilizer should be worn for the first four to six weeks, or as long as recommended by your surgeon. Once this period passes, passive and then active exercises can begin until improvement can be achieved. Total recovery often takes up to six months. Although a slow process, this careful approach offers the best opportunity to obtain a successful outcome.

Have additional questions about rotator cuff tears? Contact our practice to learn more and to schedule a consultation.