Rotator Cuff Tear

What is a rotator cuff tear?

The rotator cuff is a group of tendons that cover the ball of the shoulder (see picture). A tendon is simply a rope that connects a muscle to a bone. Sometimes one or more of these tendons may tear. This is called a rotator cuff tear.

What causes a rotator cuff tear?

• Trauma: Also known as an acute tear, the rotator cuff can tear through an injury such as a fall, lifting something heavy, or through sports. When this happens usually the person feels the tear happen and knows right away something isn’t right.

• Wear and Tear: Also known as a degenerative tear, in some people the rotator cuff gradually weakens and wears out as they age. People who get these sorts of tears often do not remember feeling the rotator cuff tear.

What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear?

The main symptom of a rotator cuff tear is pain in the shoulder. With larger tears the person may experience weakness in the shoulder as well. Sometimes the person will feel “crunching” or “grinding” or “catching” when they use their shoulder.

How to tell if you have a rotator cuff tear?

Your doctor will test for weakness, grinding and pain. X-rays are needed. An MRI is useful and will usually show the tear. If the person cannot tolerate an MRI, a CT scan or an ultrasound could be done.

How are rotator cuff tears treated?

Treatment of a rotator cuff tear depends on the problems the person is having with their shoulder and the size and location of the tear or tears. For small tears that aren’t bothering the person too much, a simple therapy program is often all it takes.

For larger tears that are stopping the person from doing important things in their life, surgery is often helpful. The surgery involves repairing the tear in the rotator cuff.

Sometimes for very large tears that the person has had for a long time, a smoothing procedure is helpful. When secondary arthritis sets in, a shoulder replacement surgery is needed to help improve function and decrease pain.

Normal rotator cuff

Torn rotator cuff