Rotator Cuff Injury Symptoms and Options

Understanding Rotator Cuff Tears

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint and keep the head of your upper arm bone within the shallow socket of the shoulder. A rotator cuff injury can cause a dull ache in the shoulder, which often worsens when you try to sleep on the injured side, says orthopedic surgeon, John Mehalik, M.D.

“Most cases of rotator cuff tears occur in the absence of trauma,” Dr. Mehalik explains. “Very few tears occur as a consequence of a direct traumatic issue, about 10%. In nine of 10 cases, the rotator cuff breaks down with time. It’s like a fraying rope that when the last strand breaks, the tendon tears.”

There are two types of tears—partial and full- thickness tears, Dr. Mehalik says. “Partial-thickness tears, which happen when a tendon is frayed, typically are treated with anti-inflammatory medications, steroid injections and physical therapy to strengthen the remaining rotator cuff muscles,” he says. “In a full-thickness tear, the tendon completely separates from the bone. Interestingly, rotator cuff tears show no correlation between the size of the tear and the degree of pain it causes.” In other words, small tears can be as painful as large tears and vice versa.

Torn rotator cuff symptoms:

  • When you move your arm in certain ways, it hurts.
  • Your shoulder is weak.
  • You’re unable to lift things as you normally do.
  • Your arm makes a clicking or popping noise when you move it.
  • Your arm hurts at rest and at night, and disrupts your sleep.
  • Your arm is weak when you lift or rotate it.

If the tear fails to improve with conservative, non-surgical treatments, outpatient surgery may be warranted. This can be done arthroscopically—meaning the surgery can be performed with three or more small ½-inch incisions instead of a single large incision.

Recovery time will depend on the severity of the injury. Generally, a patient can resume limited participation in athletic activity at three months and over time, transition to full participation.

John Mehalik, M.D.
Orthopedic Center of Florida
12670 Creekside Lane
Suite 202
Fort Myers, FL 33919

Tags: Orthopedics, shoulder surgery, rotator cuff