Rotator Cuff Tear
What is the rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of four small muscles and their tendons that attach the shoulder blade to the upper arm. The rotator cuff muscles work together to stabilize the shoulder while providing the ability to rotate and lift the arm. A rotator cuff tear is a common and painful shoulder condition that can interfere with the ability to perform daily activities like washing your hair, grocery shopping and lifting objects.
What is a rotator cuff tear?
Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common causes of shoulder pain. Studies report that about 30% of adults over the age of 60 have a tear, and 62% of adults over age 80 have a rotator cuff tear. Rotator cuff tears can range in size from very small to very large and may be partial or complete tears.
Most rotator cuff tears are partial tears, which means that the tendon is not completely severed. Partial tears often do not cause symptoms but are at risk of increasing in size which is related to symptom development. Partial tears don’t require surgery and are treated with rest, NSAIDS, rotator cuff exercises, and activity modification.
A full thickness tear, where the tendon is completely detached from the bone, is less common. Larger tears may require rotator cuff repair surgery and there are some rotator cuff tears that are not repairable. These injuries may require more extensive surgery like a reverse total shoulder.
What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear?
Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear may include:
- Pain in the shoulder, especially when lifting or reaching overhead or behind the back
- Pain that interferes with sleep
- Loss of strength especially with lifting away from their body or reaching overhead
- Reduced range of motion
- A crackling sensation when moving the shoulder
What can cause a rotator cuff tear?
Rotator cuff injury can be the result of a traumatic injury, overuse injury, or general wear and tear over time.
- Acute, traumatic tears can occur from a single traumatic event like a sudden lift of a heavy object, a fall, or a dislocated shoulder.
- Chronic rotator cuff tears typically occur from microtrauma, wear and tear, from aging, construction jobs, repetitive overhead activity, and sports that irritate the tendons causing tendon degeneration; and reduced blood flow which inhibits the ability to repair damage. Chronic tears are common, affecting patients over the age of 40 and are a major source of pain and shoulder dysfunction. Aging, hypertension, smoking, poor posture, high cholesterol, occupation and a family history of tears or shoulder problems are risk factors. Both recreational and professional athletes are at risk. Importantly, a sudden trauma or strain on a degenerated rotator cuff can cause a complete tear.
How is a rotator cuff tear diagnosed?
Dr. Harrison will conduct an orthopedic evaluation of your shoulder. He will review your medical history including your age, family history, sports, occupation, all occurrences of shoulder trauma and the history of your shoulder pain. He will inquire about your symptoms and test for tenderness, your range of motion and shoulder strength comparing the injured shoulder with the uninjured shoulder. Dr. Harrison may order x-rays to evaluate the bones, and an MRI to evaluate the soft tissues including the rotator cuff tendons and muscles and identify partial and full thickness tears. With all this information, he will render a diagnosis, explain his diagnosis to you and recommend treatment options.
If you have had any outside imaging performed, please bring the images on a disc as well as any written reports. We are often unable to access these tests and reports and need them for review. Contact Dr. Harrison to make an appointment today.
Dr. Harrison is a board-certified fellowship trained orthopedic and sports medicine surgeon who specializes in arthroscopic knee and shoulder surgery. He is the Head Team Physician for the United States Alpine Ski Team, the Chief of Sports Medicine at McKay-Dee Hospital, and the Head Team Physician for Weber State University for over 20 years. Dr. Harrison completed his undergraduate degree at Baylor University and received his medical degree from the University of Arizona College of Medicine. He completed his orthopedic residency at the University of Utah followed by a fellowship in sports medicine at the Cincinnati Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center and finished with an additional AO Trauma Fellowship in Bern, Switzerland.
At a Glance
Dr. Jeffrey Harrison
- Board-Certified, Fellowship-Trained Orthopedic Surgeon
- Head Team Physician US Women's Alpine Team and Weber State University
- Performs over 800 surgeries per year
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