The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons (connective tissue) that surround your shoulder joint, keeping the head of your upper arm bone securely within the shallow socket of your shoulder. A rotator cuff tear is damage to that group of muscles and tendons, which can happen due to wear and tear over time or it can occur suddenly as a result of an injury (acute).
Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear can include:
- Difficulty combing your hair or reaching behind your back
- Difficulty sleeping, especially if you usually sleep on the affected side
- Dull, aching pain in your shoulder
- Weakness in the affected arm
Your doctor will conduct a complete physical examination and collect your health history to help make a diagnosis.
Your doctor may order an imaging test – such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), X-ray, or ultrasound – to help confirm the diagnosis.
In this test, your specialist inserts a long, thin instrument (arthroscope) into your elbow joint to assess the cartilage injury.
You will need to avoid all physical activity involving the affected arm while it heals.
You should apply ice to the affected shoulder a few times each day to help with pain and swelling.
Your doctor may recommend you take an over-the-counter pain medication – such as Motrin, Aleve, or Tylenol – to help manage related pain.
Your healthcare provider may prescribe rehabilitation therapy. Our physical therapists establish a unique plan of care that includes specific interventions for your condition and situation to help alleviate pain and improve mobility.
Your doctor may recommend steroid injections to help reduce the pain related to your rotator cuff tear. These injections are usually effective, though they can contribute to weakening of the tendon, so they are used with caution.
If other treatments for your rotator cuff tear are unsuccessful, your sports medicine doctor may recommend that you undergo surgery to repair the tear.
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