Rotator Cuff Injuries
What is a rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of the shoulder joint, allowing the shoulder to move and remain stable. Rotator cuff injuries occur most often in people who repeatedly perform overhead motions in their jobs or sports. Examples include painters, carpenters, and baseball and tennis players. The risk of rotator cuff injury also increases with age.
What causes rotator cuff injuries?
A rotator cuff tear may result from an acute injury such as a fall or may be caused by chronic wear and tear with degeneration of the tendon. It can also be caused by lifting heavy objects over your head, stress from repetitive activities, and bone spurs.
What are the symptoms of rotator cuff injuries?
The symptoms of rotator cuff injuries include pain and weakness in your shoulder that sometimes reaches into your arm. It may be uncomfortable or impossible to perform everyday activities, such as combing your hair, tucking in your shirt, or reaching above your head. You’ll note a decrease in range of motion and may experience pain during the night when sleeping on the affected side.
How are rotator cuff injuries diagnosed?
Your doctor will press on different parts of your shoulder and move your arm into different positions to pinpoint the pain. The strength in the muscles around your shoulder and arms will also be tested. In some cases, x-rays will be used to visualize if bone spurs are the source of the pain. An ultrasound or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) may also be used to reveal problems in the soft tissues around your shoulder.
How are rotator cuff injuries treated?
Many rotator cuff tears can be treated nonsurgically. Anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections, and physical therapy may improve symptoms of a cuff tear. The goals of treatment are to relieve pain and restore strength to the involved shoulder.
If a nonsurgical approach doesn’t provide satisfactory function, or if you are active and use your arm for overhead work or sports, then surgery is most often recommended because many tears will not heal without surgery. Most of the time arthroscopic (minimally invasive) surgery is appropriate. However, some large rotator cuff tears may require traditional surgery, necessitating a long incision to repair the torn tendon.
Ask the Expert: Sports Medicine Video Series
Meet the Expert: Doctor Bio Video Series
Dr. Scofield explains the factors he considers when making decisions about which tendon treatment to use.