What Is a Rotator Cuff?
The rotator cuff is formed by a group of four muscles which come together as tendons, forming a “cuff” over the head of the upper arm bone, or humerus. This cuff helps to lift and rotate your arm and stabilize the ball of the shoulder within the shoulder joint.
At Virginia Orthopaedics, our orthopaedists treat many patients with torn rotator cuffs. They often perform a minimally invasive surgical procedure called arthroscopy using small instruments including a fiber-optic video camera to diagnose and repair rotator cuff tendon tears.
How Do I Know If I’ve Torn My Rotator Cuff?
Rotator cuff tears are often caused by normal, age-related wear and tear. If you tear your rotator cuff in an injury, such as a fall, you may experience acute pain and a “snapping” feeling, plus a sensation of immediate weakness of the arm.
If you have a gradually-occurring rotator cuff tear, you will usually experience pain at the front of your affected shoulder which radiates down the side of that arm. You may initially experience pain upon reaching or lifting over your head, or be bothered by pain when you attempt to sleep on the side with the tear.
Treatment Options for a Torn Rotator Cuff
Though most rotator cuff tears can heal on their own, the least invasive route to try is nonsurgical. When you first report pain to your primary physician or orthopaedist, he or she may recommend a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or an ultrasound to confirm your diagnosis. Good function can sometimes be restored through treating a rotator cuff tear with anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and/or steroid injections, as well as limiting use of the affected arm and shoulder.
Will I Need Surgery?
Surgery is indicated to treat a rotator cuff tear if pain and weakness persist in your shoulder despite nonsurgical measures. Orthopaedic surgeons also perform this surgery for active individuals who may have incurred a gradual wear-and-tear injury from repetitive overhead work.
If you need surgical repair, arthroscopy will often reveal whether you have a partial tear, requiring debridement (a trimming or smoothing procedure) or a full-thickness tear within a tendon. The most common rotator cuff injury occurs when your tendon is torn from its insertion on the upper arm bone. It is repaired by reattaching the tendon to the humerus.
The Crucial Role of Rehabilitation in Rotator Cuff Tear Recovery
Rehabilitation plays a large role in surgical and nonsurgical rotator cuff treatment. Usually exercise and/or physical therapy are needed to regain strength and function of the affected shoulder because when a tear occurs, you typically lose motion in your shoulder and strength in the muscles surrounding your upper arm. Following successful surgical repair of the tendon defect, these muscles remain weak; so complete postsurgical rehabilitation may take several months.
Please contact us at Virginia Orthopaedics if you suspect you have the persistent pain on the front and side of your upper shoulder and arm typical of a rotator cuff tear, either by calling (540) 444-4020 or scheduling online. Our team always wants to help you move forward as quickly as possible to get back on your game and pain-free.