To get a better understanding of what a rotator cuff tear is, it would help to understand the anatomy of your shoulder. Your shoulder is made up of three bones. These are your humerus (the upper arm bone), your scapula (the shoulder blade), and your clavicle (the collarbone). The top of your humerus fits into the scapula to form your shoulder.
Made up of four muscles that come together as tendons, the rotator cuff is what holds your scapula and humerus together. The rotator cuff is responsible for your ability to lift and rotate your arm.
If any of these tendons are damaged or torn, they are no longer fully attached to the top of your humerus. A torn tendon typically begins to fray before completely tearing. You may experience either a partial or full-thickness tear.
A partial tear refers to a damaged tendon that has not yet completely severed. Alternatively, a full-thickness tear refers to a complete tear that leaves a hole in the tendon.
- What Causes a Rotator Cuff Tear?
- What are the Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear?
- Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment
What Causes a Rotator Cuff Tear?
A rotator cuff tear is typically caused by one of two things – these are either degeneration or injury.
A degenerative tear refers to general wear and tear of the muscles that make up your rotator cuff over time. A degenerative tear in one arm often leads to a tear in the unaffected arm. Factors such as repetitive stress, a reduced blood supply (which occurs with age), and bone overgrowth (bone spurs) may all contribute to a degenerative rotator cuff tear.
Alternatively, one may suffer from an acute tear which is the result of an injury. This can occur if you fall with an outstretched arm or try to lift a heavy object incorrectly. An acute tear can also happen together with other shoulder-related conditions such as a dislocated shoulder.
What are the Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tear?
The symptoms of a rotator cuff tear tend to occur both when the arm is moved in a specific direction and when the arm is at rest. Patients often describe this as a weakness and ache in the arm, which can lead to issues trying to sleep at night.
You may experience some of these symptoms if you are suffering from a rotator cuff tear:
- A dull ache from ‘deep’ in the shoulder
- Difficulty reaching back or overhead
- Issues sleeping on the affected shoulder
- A crackling sensation when the shoulder is moved in a particular direction
Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment
If you find yourself experiencing chronic shoulder pain, make an appointment to see a doctor. Treatment of rotator cuff tears varies based on several factors. Our doctors will first examine the type of tear you are suffering from, your age, activity level, and general health before deciding on the best course of treatment.
Typically, a non-surgical treatment plan will be explored first. You may be asked to allow your shoulder plenty of rest by steering clear of overhead activity and keeping the affected arm in a sling. You may also be prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the swelling. There are also some strengthening exercises that you may be asked to practice that can help relieve pain and prevent further injury. Lastly, our doctors may prescribe a steroid injection.
Non-surgical treatment of rotator cuff tears is usually recommended as there are no risks of infection or lengthy recovery times.
However, if the condition persists, a surgical treatment plan may need to be put in place as you may be at risk of the tear increasing in size over time.
If you lead a reasonably active lifestyle and use your arms for overhead work or sports, a surgical plan may be the recommended option for you. Additionally, should your rotator cuff tear be on the larger side (more than 3cm) with healthy surrounding tissue, our doctor may also advise that you explore the surgical treatment option.
Typically, surgery to fix a rotator cuff tear will involve reattaching the tendon to the humerus. However, our doctors will discuss which method best suits you and your needs.