The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and their tendons that stabilize the shoulder joint. The rotation cuff joins the upper arm and shoulder blade, allowing one to lift and rotate the arm. A tear in the rotator cuff is a common cause of shoulder pain in adults. Tears can occur as a result of trauma, such as lifting something heavy, or falling down on an outstretched arm. They can also occur from tendon degeneration as we age or repetitive stress activities.
Common symptoms of rotator cuff tears include pain with lifting objects, pain at rest, difficult sleeping on the affected shoulder, weakness and trouble lifting objects, radiation of pain and arm into hand/fingers.
During a physical exam, your physician may notice you have trouble lifting your arm above the shoulder height or weakness with certain movements. Often times, we use imaging studies such as an MRI to assess the rotator cuff and better define the location and size of the tear.
In some cases, only a small part of the tendon is torn or frayed (partial tear). First line treatment includes anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. Cortisone injections are also beneficial and frequently used to reduce pain and inflammation. If symptoms persist, especially in cases of complete tears, arthroscopic repair of the rotator cuff tendon may be required.