The rotator cuff consists of 4 muscles connected to the humerus and the shoulder via tendons.
A torn rotator cuff makes you unable to lift or rotate your arm. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates that around 2 million people visit the doctor for a rotator cuff injury every year. This report only concerns the United States, so it should you a glimpse of just how common this condition is.
A tear in one or more of the tendons makes them detach from the humerus. The tear can be complete or partial. Regardless, it will cause severe movement restriction and pain.
To treat rotator cuff tears, your doctor may recommend surgical or nonsurgical solutions.
In this article, we will dissect the classic clinical presentation of a torn rotator cuff to help you identify this condition quickly. We will also cover the treatment options that repair this type of injury.
The signs and symptoms of torn rotator cuff
Unlike ACL tears (insert link of the article), rotator cuff tears may not immediately trigger pain. With that said, patients describe a unique snapping sound and unusual weakness in their upper arm after acute injury.
Other symptoms include:
- Sensing a pop when you move your arm
- Crepitus (i.e., cracking sensations) when moving the shoulder
- Pain that occurs even at rest
- Pain that occurs when lifting the arm
- Locked shoulder
- Weakness of the affected limb
In some cases, rotator cuff injuries may not directly cause any symptoms. Instead, the subsequent inflammation triggers pain, swelling, and restricted movements. When this inflammation takes place in the protective sacs of the shoulder joint (i.e., bursa), we refer to it as bursitis.
The management options of torn rotator cuff
Depending on the severity of your tear, the doctor may suggest different treatments.
Preferably, the doctor will do everything possible to avoid surgery. However, it can be the only solution for many patients with rotator cuff tears.
Examples of nonsurgical treatments for rotator cuff injuries include:
- Physical therapy
- Over-the-counter medications (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen sodium)
A 2015 meta-analysis inspected the effectiveness of nonsurgical (i.e., conservative) treatments versus surgical procedures. Interestingly, the authors found that surgery may not always be superior to conservative treatments.
They concluded that further research is necessary before drawing any conclusions. Albeit, current evidence does not support the absolute efficacy of surgical procedures over conservative treatments.
Your doctor will assess the location of the tear and its severity. Based on this information, he/she will decide which approach suits you best. For instance, reattaching the torn tendons may be sufficient in some cases.
Rotator cuff injuries are prevalent in all ages, especially active adults. The rapid management of this condition lowers the risk of long-lasting complications.
Hopefully, this article managed to simplify the topic of the torn rotator cuff and helped you become familiar with this condition.
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Dr. Kevin Crawford