Torn Rotator Cuff

What is it/what happens to cause this issue?

The rotator cuff is made up of a group of four tendons and muscles that meet around the shoulder joint at the top of the humerus, the upper arm bone that is located above the elbow. Together, they form a sort of cuff that both holds your arm in place and lets it move in various directions.

Although your shoulder is one of the most flexible joints, this comes with the price of being a bit weak. Partial tears and swelling in the tendons that hold it together can arise if too much stress is placed upon them from various activities. This can also happen from a sudden shocking stress to the tendons, quickly causing them to pull away from the bone or tear right in the middle of the tendon. You might fee a sudden pop, severe pain, and an immediate weakness in the arm. This often happens to athletes such as baseball players, swimmers, tennis players, and football players. You can also get suffer from a rotator cuff tear if you fall on your shoulder, use your arm to break a fall, or lift weights that are too heavy.

Symptoms to look out for include pain in the shoulder that can range from mild to severe depending on how serious the tear is. Weakness and tenderness in the shoulder is also expected, resulting in difficulty moving the shoulder, usually seen when trying to lift your arm above your head. If you hear snapping crackling sounds when you move your shoulder, these are more than likely a sign of a tear.

What does a typical treatment look like?

When diagnosing a rotator cuff tear your doctor ask you to move your arm in various directions to pinpoint where the pain is coming from. Your doctor may also suggest an X-ray of the shoulder with specific angles, an MRI, and also an Arthrogram, which is a special type of X-ray or MRI that uses a dye that is injected into the joint, allowing your doctor to see your shoulder in more detail.

If these tests show that you require surgery, an Arthroscopy may be recommended. This is a minimally invasive surgery in which a tiny camera is placed into the shoulder joint to look at the rotator cuff and fix the problem.. After the arthroscopy, the arm will be placed in a sling for two to three weeks and physical therapy will be prescribed for healing afterwards.

Is there a recovery time before it’s gone or does it have lingering effects?

It is hard to determine exactly how much time it takes to recover from a rotator cuff tear because that depends on how serious the tear is to begin with, and also varies from person to person. It may take weeks or months. It is advised that no physical activity is started until  you feel no residual pain in your shoulder, your shoulder feels as just as strong as the uninjured one, you have a fairly normal range of motion, you can sleep comfortably on the shoulder, and you can function as well as you could before the injury.

What are the consequences of not treating it?

It is important to treat any of these symptoms and after treatment allow the shoulder to rest. Ignoring this could lead to irreversible damage in your shoulder, and ultimately lead to a disability.