The rotator cuff is a group of tendons that attach the shoulder muscles at the upper part of your arm to your shoulder blade. These tendons also hold the ball of your upper arm in its socket. When a tear happens to any of the tendons, shoulder movement will become impaired and you will experience pain and swelling.
A rotator cuff tear can be caused by overuse and the general wear and tear that eventually leads to inflammation and tearing. Tendinitis occurs when overuse is contributed to the tendons in your shoulder from activities, such as tennis, baseball and racquetball. Lifting a heavy object over your head or falling on your shoulder or arm can cause injury or tearing of the rotary cuff.
Symptoms of a Partially Torn Rotator Cuff
Pain and weakness in the shoulder will be the main symptoms of a partially torn tendon in the rotator cuff. You may still be able to move your shoulder and lift items, but pain and weakness will be experienced. You may not feel any pain when the shoulder is at rest. The injured shoulder may produce clicking sounds and may feel worse at night when you lie in certain positions.
Symptoms of a Completely Torn Rotator Cuff
When the rotator cuff is torn completely, severe pain will occur and be constant, even at rest. You will not be able to lift items and you may not be able to lift your arm from your side. Severe shoulder pain should be looked at by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Your doctor will determine range and motion in your arm and shoulder and how much pain and weakness you are experiencing. X-rays can show a torn rotator cuff and an MRI will show small tears in the rotator cuff.
Non-surgical treatment will be tried in an effort to see if pain and range of motion can be achieved without surgery. Treatment will include rest, ice packs applied several times for five to 10 minutes the first 24 hours and heat applied after 24 hours. Anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin, can reduce pain and swelling. A physical therapist can provide you with exercises to strengthen your shoulder muscles. Steroid injection may be recommended for pronounced swelling and pain. The injection will be given directly into the area surrounding the torn tendon.
Surgery will involve a small incision in the shoulder to repair torn tendons and remove any bone spurs or calcium deposits. In an arthroscopic repair, your surgeon is aided by a small camera that is inserted into the incision. Severe rotator cuff tears may lead to rotator cuff arthropathy and severe arthritis. When this condition occurs, your doctor may recommend partial or total shoulder replacement.