The rotator cuff (RTC) is an important structure in the shoulder. The rotator cuff helps attach the arm bone to the shoulder blade.
It is made up of 4 muscles and their tendons that surround the shoulder joint. These muscles/tendons have two important functions;
There are two major types of rotator cuff injuries. An acute rotator cuff injury is a result of a trauma to the shoulder. These can occur from a fall on an outstretched arm or from lifting a heavy object.
The second type of RTC injury is called a degenerative tear. These tears are a result of wearing down the tendon over a long period of time. These types of tears increase in occurrence as we get older.
Age is one of the biggest risk factors for RTC injury. Since the majority of these tears are degenerative, they occur from normal wear and tear on the shoulder that happens as we get older.
Another risk factor is repetitive overhead lifting or use of the shoulder. This includes overhead athletes or manual laborers.
Symptoms of RTC injury include pain in the shoulder when lifting overhead, night pain and weakness when moving the shoulder.
If you had an acute injury to your shoulder and are now having trouble moving it, then you should seek medical attention with an Orthopedic Sports Medicine specialist.
Or, If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above that has not improve with a short course of antinflammatories and rest.
Treatment of RTC tears depend on the type of tear (acute vs degenerative), characteristics of the tear, presence of underlying osteoarthritis, and activity level of the patients. Acute tears often warrant operative treatment. Whereas degenerative tears may respond well to physical therapy.
If there is a suggestion of a RTC tear based on your history or physical exam, the doctor will likely order an MRI to evaluate the tendons more closely.
Full-thickness RTC tear will not heal on their own. However, symptoms can often be managed successfully with physical therapy.
Surgery for rotator cuff repair is often done arthroscopically. This means the doctor will make small keyhole incisions and insert a camera into the shoulder joint, and project the image on a screen. They will then use the screen to help guide special miniature instruments in the shoulder joint to help aid the repair.