Surrounding the shoulder joint is a group of tendons and muscles. Known as the rotator cuff, its function is to keep ball portion of your upper arm bone seated firmly within your shoulder socket. A torn rotator cuff can result in a dull aching in the affected shoulder. When you attempt to use your arm in a position away from your body, the pain might get worse.
Causes of a Torn Rotator Cuff
Simple things like falls can cause rotator cuff tears by dislocating your shoulder or even breaking a nearby bone. However, the more common causes of torn rotator cuffs include:
- Repetitive Use: Continual use of your shoulder, to the point of overuse
- Bone Spurs: These growths can eventually cause a partial or complete tear
- Blood Flow Decrease: A lack of blood flow to the area can make it easier to tear
Symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff
While some tears happen gradually, with pain that increases slowly over time but is treatable through pain relief medication, sudden tears can happen by way of an accident and will be accompanied by immediate, extreme pain. Common torn rotator cuff symptoms include:
- Shoulder weakness
- Pain or difficulty when raising your arm
- Shoulder pain that worsens at night or when at rest
- Popping and/or clicking sensations or sounds when moving your arm
How is a Torn Rotator Cuff Diagnosed?
The most basic test that your doctor will perform is a thorough physical examination. This will test for range of motion, tenderness, and overall strength of your arm. More advanced testing that may be used to confirm a diagnosis include:
Non-Surgical Treatments for a Torn Rotator Cuff
Typically, a torn rotator cuff is first treated with conservative measures that you can do at home, such as applying ice to the affected area and resting it. Physical therapy can help increase your flexibility and mobility. Your doctor may also recommend an arm sling to reduce unneeded movement.
If the pain is interfering with your normal activities, your sleep or with your ability to do physical therapy, your doctor might recommend that you have a steroid injection. Physical therapy is both a common treatment for a torn rotator cuff and a vital part of your recovery if you have surgery. Specific exercises tailored to the particular area of your rotator cuff injury can help increase flexibility and strength.
Surgical Treatments for a Torn Rotator Cuff
Surgery is another option for treating a rotator cuff injury. Depending on the cause of the condition and other factors, your doctor might recommend that you have surgery to repair the tendons or to replace the shoulder altogether. A tendon transfer might be required if the tendon too damaged to be repaired.
Typically, surgeries for a torn rotator cuff are performed arthroscopically, and you will be able to return home that same day in most cases. For extreme cases where the tear is not repairable, you may require total shoulder replacement or other more involved procedures.
How an Orthopedic Specialist Can Help
For the best outcome when you have a torn rotator cuff, turn to the specialist who have the experience and expertise to deliver excellent care to you. An orthopedic surgeon can help you regain the full use of your arm and address your pain.
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