Rotator Cuff Tear

What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

The muscles and tendons of your shoulder make up your rotator cuff. They connect your shoulder blade with your upper arm, and they help hold the ball of your upper arm bone in your shoulder socket. When your rotator cuff is torn, it means these muscles and tendons have been injured.


How Does it Happen?

There are many ways to injure a rotator cuff. You could fall on your arm, resulting in a tear to a muscle, or you could lift or pull an object that is too heavy. Athletes can suffer rotator cuff tears by doing repetitive motions such as throwing a baseball, swinging a golf club, or serving a tennis ball. Rotator cuff injuries can also result from aging, poor posture, and everyday wear and tear.


What are the Signs and Symptoms?

You are most likely to notice a problem when you use the range of motion of your shoulder, such as by reaching up or pulling your arms behind you. Here are some signs:

  • Shoulder weakness
  • Pain or tenderness in your shoulder
  • Wanting to keep your shoulder still
  • Feeling unable to fully move your shoulder

How is it Diagnosed?

Initially, your doctor will do a physical examination of your shoulder. Then he or she may follow up with an x-ray, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These tests will offer a good look at your shoulder muscles and tendons.


How is it Treated?

In many cases, your doctor will suggest that you undergo physical therapy to learn exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve flexibility. You may also benefit from pain management, such as cortisone shots.  

If your condition is severe, you may require surgery to repair the tear. This procedure may be done as open surgery or arthroscopy. More extensive surgery can replace the shoulder joint.


What is the Prognosis?

If you require physical therapy, it may take several weeks for you to see marked improvement, but with consistent practice, you can get much better. If you require surgery, total recovery times vary, depending on the type of procedure.