Rotator Cuff Tear

Preview image for Rotator Cuff Tear

Rotator cuff tears are common cause of pain and disability.  The rotator cuff is a group of 4 muscles that hold the arm bone (humerus) in the shoulder socket as well as help with motion and strength of the shoulder.  There are different types of rotator cuff tears.  They can be complete, also known as full-thickness tears of the rotator cuff tendon.  Alternatively, the tear can be partial thickness.  The cause of a tear can be a single, specific injury, but is usually the result of chronic overuse. These usually occur in patients over the age of 40 who perform repetitive overhead activity.

The signs or symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include lateral shoulder pain, pain with overhead activities, and pain while sleeping.  Weakness, either due to the pain or to a full thickness tear, is frequently encountered as well.  Greater than 75% of people with a rotator cuff tear can be treated successfully without surgery.  This includes a regimen of activity modification, anti-inflammatories, and physical therapy.  Frequently, a steroid injection can be used to help with the pain as well. 

When non-operative management fails, surgical repair is an option.  The surgery involved repairing the tendon of the rotator cuff back to the humerus.  The recovery from surgery is typically 4 to 6 months, and consists of exercises to maintain range of motion and improve strength.  This is frequently done with the assistance of physical therapy.