What is Rotator Cuff Tear?

A rotator cuff tear is a common injury especially in sports. It’s one of the most common causes of disability and pain among adults. In fact, in 2013, over 2 million adults in the United States sought medical help for their rotator cuff tear.

About the Rotator Cuff

The rotator cuff refers to the group of muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint. It helps in keeping the head of the upper arm bone within the socket of the shoulder.

Common Causes

Rotator cuff injuries such as a tear usually happen as a result of repeated overhead motions. This is why it’s common in sports like baseball and tennis and in certain jobs like carpentry and painting.

Tear in the rotator cuff may also occur as a result of degenerative changes such as the wear and tear of tendons.

Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear

The most common symptom of a torn rotator cuff is pain. Initially, it is just a mild discomfort only felt when lifting the arm over the head. Over time, the pain can become more noticeable even at rest.

Aside from pain, a person with torn rotator cuff may also complain of weakness in the shoulder, difficulty in raising the arm and in lifting objects, and hearing a popping sound when the arm is moved.

Diagnosing a Rotator Cuff Tear

A torn rotator cuff is only diagnosed after taking one’s medical history and a thorough physical examination.

During the physical exam, the doctor will check one’s range of motion and muscle strength. The patient will be asked to move his/her arm in different directions. This is a way for the doctor to see which movements are causing pain.

The doctor may require other tests to help him/her confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, or ultrasound.

How It Is Treated

Most cases of torn rotator cuff can be managed through nonsurgical interventions such as rest, modification of activity, taking of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, and rest.

If the pain continues or worsens even with the nonsurgical intervention, then the doctor is most likely to recommend surgery. A common surgical intervention for a torn rotator cuff involves the re-attachment of the tendon to the head of the humerus.