Rotator Cuff Tears – Aggravating Shoulder InjuryheadingContent

Posted on January 23, 2015

medical image of a shoulder and bones super imposed over with red areas to show problem area

Studies have shown 80 percent of people over the age of 70, could be living with a rotator cuff tear.

What is a rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff is a set of four muscles and tendons located around the shoulder. These muscles and tendons form one large tendon and allow the arm to rotate around the shoulder like a ball and socket.

What can cause a tear?

Numerous causes can lead to a tear in the rotator cuff. “Falling and landing on the shoulder and the lifting of heavy objects are all common causes of rotator cuff tears in young, healthy people,” said Fawwaz Mohiuddin, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist with Tenet Florida Physician Services in Fort Lauderdale. “Also, repetitive overuse maneuvers like throwing a ball, or repeated overhead activities, such as a tennis serve, can cause rotator cuff tears.” In older persons, degeneration of the muscles and tendons with age can cause rotator cuff tears. Studies have shown that after age 60, many people will have tears without any symptoms.

What are the symptoms of a tear?

“The most common symptom of a rotator cuff tear is pain in the affected area at night. The pain will lead to the inability to sleep on that affected side. Other symptoms include pain while doing overhead activities, reaching behind the back and weakness when raising the arm. With large tears, there may even be the inability to move the arm at all,” said Dr. Mohiuddin.

How does a doctor diagnose a tear?

A doctor will start by looking for trauma in the patient’s history. If they’ve been experiencing any pain and if that pain has gotten worse, it could signify a tear. Checking the range of motion of the affected arm is a common test used to diagnose a rotator cuff tear. The best way to confirm a tear is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRIs are also used to see the severity of the tear, if it has retracted, and if the muscles have been infiltrated with fat. “MRI is the gold standard in diagnosing a rotator cuff tear,” said Dr. Mohiuddin.

What are the prevention methods and treatment options?

To prevent a rotator cuff tear, one option is to stay healthy. Dr. Mohiuddin suggests exercising, stretching and weight-training regularly can be beneficial. “As you get older, make sure to lift less weight as degeneration can lead to tears. Also, while exercising it is imperative to use the proper techniques and not injure yourself,” said Dr. Mohiuddin.

Depending on the severity of the tear, there are surgical and non-surgical treatment options available. The non-surgical options are usually administered for partial tearing. The methods typically include an anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy and rotator cuff strengthening exercises. About 85 percent of patients who experience partial tearing and undergo this treatment route bounce back and recover from the tear. Surgical options are for more serious or full tears. Arthroscopic surgery is a minimally invasive procedure used to repair the tear. After surgery, a patient can expect to have the arm immobilized for four to six weeks and then go on to physical therapy for a few months.