The rotator cuff refers to a group of muscles and tendons located in the shoulder joint.
Common causes of a rotator cuff tear can include:
A torn rotator cuff can be partial or total.
A rotator cuff tear is more likely to occur under certain circumstances.
These risk factors include:
If left untreated, a rotator cuff tear can severely restrict function and range of motion.
The tears can also increase over time. This may cause partial rotator cuff tears to progress to total tears.
While anti-inflammatory medications can ease your pain toward the beginning of the injury, time worsens the tear and makes these medications less effective.
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Rotator cuff tears that result from trauma — including some sort of fall or blow — will often cause intense pain and the rapid onset of symptoms.
Tears that occur over time with wear and tear may cause a slower progression of pain and related symptoms.
The most common symptoms of rotator cuff injuries include:
The assessment of a suspected torn rotator cuff is most helpful at the first sign of repeated symptoms. This allows your doctor to catch the tear before it progresses.
To diagnose a rotator cuff tear, your doctor will:
Based on these results, you may need other tests such as:
Although individually targeted based on your symptoms, treatments for rotator cuff tears aim to:
Based on the severity of your rotator cuff injury, your doctor may choose nonsurgical or surgical treatments.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgery, nonsurgical treatments for rotator cuff tears are effective in relieving pain and increasing function for 50 percent of patients.
Nonsurgical treatments generally begin with rest and immobilization.
If symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend:
If you still have rotator cuff tear symptoms — even after a regimen of nonsurgical treatments — your doctor may suggest rotator cuff repair surgery.
Factors that may make rotator cuff surgery a better option than nonsurgical treatments include the:
The three common surgical techniques for repairing rotator cuff tears are:
Treatments for rotator cuff injuries, when implemented as quickly as possible, are generally effective in:
For these reasons, it's crucial to talk to your doctor immediately if you suspect a shoulder injury.
Following any sort of surgical treatment of your rotator cuff, you should expect a period of gradual rehabilitation.
At first, you may have to use a sling and avoid motions for four to six weeks. But, in time, you will reintroduce movement and lifting into your routine.
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