Answers to 5 Common Questions about Rotator Cuff Tears

rotator cuff tear

Shoulder injuries are very common, especially among active individuals. These injuries are often a result of excessive strain or a sprain caused by activities like softball, swimming, tennis, baseball, golf, or weight training. People also develop problems because of rotator cuff degeneration, which manifests over time and is a symptom of age. One of the most common injuries to this region is called a ‘rotator cuff tear.’

  1. What is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Many rotator cuff injuries start with an inflammation caused by strain or sprain. This inflammation is called tendonitis, and it can heal gradually if your shoulder remains stable. Sometimes, injuries like tendonitis continue to worsen until the tendons become frayed or torn, and this is called a rotator cuff tear.

A tear can be partial or full based on its depth. A partial-thickness tear penetrates a small portion of a tendon and can be quite shallow. A full-thickness tear penetrates to the bone, causing the tendon to separate from it.

  1. How Do I Know I Have Injured my Rotator Cuff?

Pain is the most glaring symptom of an injury. Many patients also experience a great deal of stiffness or loss of mobility. Here’s a look at some common symptoms:

  • Pain while performing overhead activities.
  • Shoulder pain at night, which impacts the person’s sleep.
  • Weakness in the injured shoulder.
  • Problems with daily activities like bathing, dressing, reaching outward, etc.

If you experience any of the signs mentioned above, visit a doctor immediately for treatment. Untreated rotator cuff tears can cause chronic pain, which compromises a patient’s quality of life.

  1. What Happens When I See the Doctor?

If you have a shoulder injury, it is best to visit a specialist orthopedic surgeon. They will look at your medical history, past injuries, and conduct a thorough physical examination. A doctor will first take an x-ray to check for fractures or breaks before ordering an MRI for torn cuffs. Some doctors also request an ultrasound if the MRI isn’t an option.

After they have conducted a thorough examination, the doctor will come up with a treatment plan to address the situation.

  1. What are the Treatment Options?

A surgeon’s treatment approach depends on the extent of your injury. In most cases,  no invasive procedure is needed. A patient will heal with time and well-planned physical therapy. If you’re in too much pain, a doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, pain killers, or steroid injections to make things easier.

If your tear goes deeper than 50% of the tendon, you will require surgery. The doctor will repair all anatomical damage to aid in recovery. As a patient’s tear heals, they will regain their full range of motion.

Physical therapy is an important aspect of this recovery process. Therapists will recommend exercises that strengthen muscle, improve flexibility, and expand the overall range of motion. Without therapy, you won’t be able to recover completely as the tendon will remain weak for years.

  1. What can I expect Post Surgery?

Rotator cuff tear repair surgery is an outpatient treatment. You won’t be asked to stay in the hospital unless there are complications. Patients must wear a sling for several weeks after treatment, especially if they have undergone surgery. This sling keeps your shoulder immobile and provides support.

Recovery depends on factors like the patient’s current health, chronic medical conditions like diabetes, patient’s age, bad habits like smoking, etc. Your surgeon and physical therapist will work together on a post-procedure treatment plan. They will track your recovery before providing permission for everyday activities.

Dr. Stacie Grossfeld has decades of experience helping patients in Louisville Kentucky with rotator cuff pain. As a double board certified orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician, Dr. Grossfeld is able to diagnose and treat all types of shoulder injuries including rotator cuff tears. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, please call Orthopaedic Specialists at 502-212-2663.