Sports, Pain​ & ​

Regenerative Institute

Rotator Cuff Tear Q & A

Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common injuries experienced by adults. In fact, annually it is estimated that as many as two million people in the U.S. will require medical treatment as a result of this condition, which can cause both pain and frustration. This is because having a rotator cuff which is torn will compromise the shoulder, which can make it very difficult and agonizing to perform even the most basic daily activities, such as putting on cloths or brushing your hair.


Causes of Rotator Cuff Tear

The shoulder has three bones, which are the humerus (upper arm), scapula (shoulder blade) and the clavicle (collar bone). It uses a joint with a socket and ball, and the ball for the upper arm will fit inside a socket that is shallow near the shoulder blade. The rotator cuff is responsible for holding the arm within the shoulder socket. It consists of a collection of 4 muscles which work together in the form of tendons that cover the top of your humerus. As the name suggest, the rotator cuff is essential in allowing humans to rotate their arms.


However, if one of the tendons of the rotator cuff is damaged, the tendon won’t be completely attached to the humerus. The damage usually starts in the form of fraying, but as the severity increases, the tendon might tear completely. This injury has two primary causes, which are either due to degeneration or injury. If someone slips and falls with their arm outstretched, or they attempt to pick up something that is too heavy, this can lead to rotator cuff injury. The damage might also accompany related injuries such as a shoulder dislocation or shattered collarbone.


Symptoms of Rotator Cuff Tear

Symptoms which usually are associated with rotator cuff tear include:

  • Weakness or pain from rotating or lifting the arm
  • Crackling sensation whenever the shoulder is moved
  • Discomfort when attempting to lie on the shoulder


Treatment of Rotator Cuff Tear

There are a number of treatments for rotator cuff tear. Some patients choose surgery, but many physicians will recommend physical therapy first before an invasive approach is tried. Studies show that eighty percent of patients are successfully treated through nonsurgical means. This includes rest, the avoidance of activities which can lead to shoulder pain, and the usage of medications which are anti-inflammatory and non-steroidal. This will help with the swelling and discomfort.


Doctors will also recommend exercises which will strengthen the shoulder and restore its movement. These include stretches and other motions which improve flexibility. If these treatments do not work, the next step is the injection of cortisone, as it has proven to be highly effective for many patients. Surgery is usually reserved as a last resort because it comes with a number of risks such as infection, long lasting stiffness, complications involving anesthesia and an extended recovery time.