The rotator cuff is the network of muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder joint together. The shoulder joint is made up of the top of the humerus (upper arm bone), the shoulder blade, and the clavicle (collar bone). The knobby ball at the top of the humerus fits into a shallow socket in the shoulder blade, and the supporting network of muscles and tendons hold the bones in place and enable movement.
The most common injuries to the rotator cuff include tears of varying severity. Partial tears damage the soft tissue. Full thickness tears, also called complete tears, split the soft tissue into two pieces. This often occurs where the tendons attach to the top of the upper arm bone.
Tears are either acute or degenerative. Sudden injuries cause acute tears; for example, when you fall or use a jerking motion to lift a heavy object. Degenerative tears follow a general wearing down of the tendons. Some contributing factors to degenerative tears include repetitive stress, lack of blood supply, and bone spurs.
People over the age of 40 are at greater risk for rotator cuff injuries.
Rotator cuff injuries are known to be quite painful. Some of the symptoms include crackling sensations, called crepitus, when you move your shoulder; weakness when lifting or rotating your arm; and pain when lifting or lowering your arm, or while at rest, particularly if you are lying on the affected shoulder.
Treatment can be surgical or nonsurgical. Many physicians take a conservative approach to treatment and suggest nonsurgical treatments first, including rest, activity modification, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) therapy, steroid injections, and physical therapy. When these methods are not successful, the physician may suggest a surgical intervention, which most often involves re-attaching the tendon to the bone.
The orthopedic surgeons at Greater Austin Orthopaedics are highly skilled and have experience in the treatment of rotator cuff and other shoulder injuries. If you suspect you have a rotator cuff injury, call us or schedule an appointment online.