Symptoms of rotator cuff tear can be unbearable. A rotator cuff tear can prevent a person from raising his arm. This can also stop him from working, taking care of family and engaging in the simplest of activities. Rotator cuff injuries can even prevent him from doing simple tasks easily, such as combing his hair or pulling a shirt over his head.
In this article:
- What Is a Rotator Cuff Tear?
- Causes of Rotator Cuff Tears
- Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tears
- How to Test for Rotator Cuff Tear
- Can a Rotator Cuff Tear Heal?
Looking Out For Symptoms Of Rotator Cuff Tear Should
What Is a Rotator Cuff Tear?
The pain and disability of rotator cuff symptoms sent nearly 2 million people in the United States to their doctors in 2013, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
A rotator cuff tear may be a full thickness rotator cuff tear or a partial rotator cuff tear. A full-thickness rotator cuff tear occurs when the entire tendon tears off the bone. Partial rotator cuff tear is also known as partial-thickness rotator cuff tears. It occurs when only part of the tendon separates from the bone.
The rotator cuff tears can be acute or chronic. An acute rotator cuff injury comes on suddenly, often as the result of a fall or another injury. A chronic rotator cuff tear is a long-term problem, usually caused by everyday wear and tear.
The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. This means the ball-shaped end of the upper arm bone, known as the humerus, fits into the shallow socket on the shoulder blade.
The rotator cuff is made of a group of four muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint and keep the upper arm bone in its socket. The muscles of the rotator cuff help people raise their arms above their head and rotate their arm in nearly every direction.
Rotator cuff tendons hold muscles onto the shoulder blade bone. These rotator cuff tendons include the supraspinatus tendon and the subscapularis tendon. The supraspinatus tendon is the most common location for rotator cuff tears, according to the American Academy of Orthopedics.
Causes of Rotator Cuff Tears
Because the shoulder joint is used a lot and because the joint is very complex, injuries are common. Overuse of the shoulders can cause tendinitis, where the tendons become inflamed. Inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs that sit between the tendons and bones can cause bursitis. Overuse and injury can cause rotator cuff strains and rotator cuff tears.
A rotator cuff tear is a condition where one of the tendons develops a tear. The tear can be partial or complete.
Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tears
The symptoms of rotator cuff tears may differ. Partial rotator cuff injuries may cause different symptoms than complete rotator cuff tears, for example. Acute rotator cuff injuries may cause different symptoms than a chronic rotator cuff injury.
Inflammation often accompanies rotator cuff injuries. This inflammation causes pain. Inflammation also decreases range of motion, which means a person with a rotator cuff tear cannot move his shoulder very well.
The inflammation can be hard to see or feel with fingers, but that is because the muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff are far below the surface of the skin. The swelling occurs in the small space of the shoulder joint, making an already cramped space even more crowded.
Acute Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms
An acute rotator cuff tear can cause a sudden tearing sensation. Next, a severe pain may shoot from the upper shoulder area down the arm to elbow. The pain occurs in the front and the back of the shoulder. Pain and muscle spasms prevent movement in the arms. A large tear in the rotator cuff may even prevent raising the arms at all. The acute pain may resolve in a few days.
Chronic Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms
The pain from a chronic rotator cuff tear is usually worse at night. In fact, the pain may interfere with sleep. Patients with this problem may notice gradual weakness and decreased shoulder movement as the pain worsens. There may also be a decrease in moving the arm out to the side. Activities that require lifting the arm to shoulder level become very difficult or impossible.
How to Test for Rotator Cuff Tear
Doctors will know how to test for rotator cuff tear. After a thorough review of a patient’s medical history and overall health, the doctor may perform a rotator cuff tear test. The Drop-arm Test is one such rotator cuff tear test. In this test, the doctor may help him raise the affected arm to a 90-degree angle to his body. The doctor will then release his or her hand. If the patient has a full thickness rotator cuff tear, he will be unable to lower his arm from the 90-degree angle slowly if he has a full thickness rotator cuff tear. His arm may drop to his side quickly if he has a rotator cuff tear.
During this test for a rotator cuff tear, he may be able to lower his arm slowly from above his head to 90 degrees but have trouble lowering his arm all the way to his waist.
Can a Rotator Cuff Tear Heal?
People who suffered a rotator cuff tear may have wondered, “Can a rotator cuff tear heal?”
They will be glad to know that a rotator cuff tear can heal, especially with the help of a doctor. It may take longer for older adults to heal.
Depending on the type of injury and its severity, nonsurgical treatment has a 40 to 90 percent success rate, according to eMedicineHealth. One study found that 94 percent of respondents were happy with the outcome of their shoulder surgery.
Conservative treatment at home includes resting the rotator cuff and applying ice to the shoulder. Using a sling for a short time can give the arm a rest. It’s inadvisable to use the sling for too long, though, or the shoulder will get stiff. Use non-prescription anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, to reduce swelling and relieve pain.
Rotator cuff tear stretching and rotator cuff tear exercises can help. Physical therapy helps strengthen the muscles of the rotator cuff. Range-of-motion exercises increase the range of motion in the rotator cuff.
The doctor can provide some non-surgical treatments for rotator cuff tears and other rotator cuff injuries. These non-surgical treatments can include steroid injections to reduce inflammation where the muscle tendons run across the shoulder joint, shockwave therapy, therapeutic ultrasound, and dry needling.
In some cases, rotator cuff repair includes rotator cuff surgery. During the surgery, the doctor will repair any tears or other damage to the affected muscles or tendons.
While the rotator cuff tears resulting from accidents and falls can’t always be prevented, other types of rotator cuff injuries can be avoided. The shoulder joint should be warmed up before performing work or sports activities that involve the shoulder to prevent overuse injuries. Always use proper technique and body mechanics whenever performing any activity that involves the rotator cuff.
Symptoms of rotator cuff tear can be debilitating. Stay away from rotator cuff tears with these exercises from AskDoctorJo:
If there’s a possibility of a rotator cuff tear or some other rotator cuff injury, consult with a doctor. The symptoms of rotator cuff tear may be a sign of a serious injury. Treatment for rotator cuff tear or other shoulder injuries can reduce pain and other symptoms of a rotator cuff tear.
Rotator cuff tears aren’t the only health issues discussed in Dr. Seeds. Keep reading to get more information for health improvement.
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