Rotator cuff tears are considered a serious injury that requires urgent medical attention. Your rotator cuff is vital for proper range of motion and bearing weight. When your rotator cuff is torn or injured, it is best to stop doing the activity that caused the injury to prevent further damage to your muscles. If you are unsure whether you have injured your rotator cuff, seek medical attention as soon as possible to avoid aggravating or worsening your injury.
What is a Rotator Cuff?
The rotator cuff is made up of four muscles that each have a tendon attached to the humerus (the upper arm bone). These four tendons create a “cuff” around the top of the arm bone by attaching to the side and front. The muscles connected to these tendons are in your upper back and attach to your shoulder blade. The four rotator cuff muscles work together to control and stabilize the ball and socket of your joint whenever your arm moves. Every muscle works on its own to contribute to this stability.
Without a properly functioning rotator cuff, you may be unable to move your arm without severe pain or even at all. The rotator cuff is an essential part of lifting your arm. Without it, you would not be able to rotate your arms outward or inward.
Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear
Rotator cuff tears can show some symptoms. The most likely of these is a weakness in the muscle-tendon unit along with shoulder pain, both of which are usually present. However, some individuals have few symptoms or none at all. Tears can also be more or less severe than symptoms seem to indicate. A person with a large tear may have little or no pain, while someone with a smaller tear could experience significant pain and discomfort. If you believe you have injured your rotator cuff, it is best to seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent further damage.
How Are Rotator Cuff Tears Treated?
For most people with a rotator cuff tear, a conservative form of treatment is recommended. The exception is younger individuals who have medium or large tears, especially in their dominant arm. These individuals are more likely to be considered for surgery to repair their injury. Older individuals with severe or debilitating pain are also more likely to need surgery to repair a rotator cuff tear.
Make sure you rest, which means avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms. Depending on which tendon has been injured, the actions you find uncomfortable may be different. They usually include lifting, reaching behind, and reaching overhead. You can also apply heat and gentle massage to the injury. A warm bath or shower for about 15 minutes can be more effective than using heat locally since the muscles are located quite deep in the shoulder. Stretches and exercises can be helpful, too, but should not cause severe pain at any time.
Physical therapy and recuperative exercises are usually sufficient to resolve small or medium rotator cuff tears. Along with ceasing activities that cause pain, doctors sometimes also recommend the use of steroid injections. Generally, if more minor tears are not resolved after three to six months of a physical therapy regimen, surgery might be considered to help the injury heal faster.
The first step in recovery is preserving the shoulder’s ability to move. Unfortunately, many individuals try to treat rotator cuff injuries by using the joint less frequently or putting it in a sling. These are not recommended, as they can actually lead to further loss of range of motion and eventually culminate in a frozen shoulder.