The rotator cuff is a group of tendons in the shoulder joint that cover and provide support to the shoulder joint, enabling wider range of motion. A tear in the rotator cuff is one of the most common causes of shoulder pain in middle aged adults and older individuals. It may occur with repetitive movements while working or playing sports, during motor accidents, lifting a heavy object or a fall on an outstretched arm. As aging occurs, bone spurs may develop and can damage tendon tissue causing tears.
Rotator cuff tears cause severe pain (even at rest), weakness and a crackling sensation on moving your shoulder in certain positions. There may be stiffness, swelling, loss of movement and tenderness in front of the shoulder.
Rotator cuff tears can be diagnosed with a medical review and thorough physical exam, and confirmed following X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound.
Symptomatic relief may be obtained with conservative treatments including rest, shoulder sling, pain medications, NSAIDs, steroidal injections and shoulder exercises. However, surgery is required when these methods do not help relieve symptoms. Rotator cuff repair may be performed by traditional open surgery (involving a large incision) or minimally invasive with arthroscopy (a lighted narrow fiber-optic tube with a camera is inserted through tiny incisions). Surgery may involve removal of bone spurs, repairing and re-attaching torn tendons with suture anchors to the shoulder bone and sometimes transferring a functional tendon (graft) from its original location to restore function. Following the surgery, you may be advised to practice motion and strengthening exercises.