A rotator cuff is comprised of four muscles. The tendons form a "cuff" of tissue over the upper part of the humerous (which is the ball of the shoulder joint). The rotator cuff allows one to move their arm in a circular fashion. This movement enables people to swim, throw a ball, and lift an item over our head.
How Rotator Cuffs Tears Occur
When humans age, the tissue that surrounds the tendons weakens and makes us susceptible to tearing. Repeated overhead movements can cause the tendon to tear. In addition, landing on the shoulder during a fall or other traumatic forces on to the shoulder can cause the tendon to tear. Although some tears are partial, others are complete.
Signs and Symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff
The most common signs and symptoms of a rotator cuff tear are pain, reduced range of motion, and weakness. Pain is normally experienced at the top and side of the shoulder. This pain is often more pronounced when the arm is raised, extended, or lowered after certain movements. Weakness and reduced mobility often accompanies these and other movements. People with torn rotator cuffs may also hear a popping sound when the shoulder is moved.
Torn rotator cuffs are often associated with a shoulder impingement syndrome. This occurs when there is a squeezing or pinching of the rotator cuff. The symptoms of shoulder impingement syndrome can be similar to rotator cuff tear.
Diagnosing a Torn Rotator Cuff
In addition to a history and physical examination, rotator cuffs tears are often diagnosed with an MRI. If there is a tear, an MRI will can held doctors determine whether the tear is partial or complete. However, a partially torn tear usually does not show up on MRI.
Treatment for a Torn Rotator Cuff
There are a variety of treatment options for a torn rotator cuff. Conservative treatment may include any of the following: rest, a sling, hot or cold treatment, medication, and/or physical therapy. When physical therapy is ordered, the purpose is to improve strength, range of motion, and overall function. Surgical treatment may be indicated when the rotator cuff tear that does not respond to non-surgical management.