At TurningPoint Medical Group we see and treat many people who have torn rotator cuff symptoms. Sometimes it actually is a rotator cuff tear and sometimes it isn’t. It can actually be a little tricky to tell. The article below aims to help you learn about what a rotator cuff tear is and how to look for signs of a torn rotator cuff injury.
What a Torn Rotator Cuff Is
There is a group of four muscles supporting your rotator cuff. These muscles are surrounded by tendons and are connected to the shoulder socket bones. A tear in the rotator cuff is created by an injury to one, or several, of the surrounding tendons. A torn rotator cuff means there is damage or painful irritation to either, or both, of the tendons and muscles. According to an article by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, nearly 2 million people have rotator cuff problems each year.
Causes of a Torn Rotator Cuff
The two ways that a rotator cuff can be torn are sudden and gradual.
- A sudden tear can happen if you unexpectedly fall on an arm. A tear can happen if you are involved in any type of accident that involves your arm. It can happen if you lift something that is too heavy to be supported by your arm muscles.
- A gradual tear can happen over a long period of time. This is when the tendons have been worn down and weakened due to repeated shoulder and arm movements. Frequent physical activities, such as baseball, can wear down the rotator cuff tendons. Jobs that require people to raise their arms for long periods of time are construction workers and hair stylists.
Symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff
Whether a tear is sudden or gradual, the symptoms generally are the same and include:
- Pain is the most common feeling. It can be intense from a sudden tear or develop slowly over time as the muscles and tendons weaken. The pain is felt around the shoulder joint and along the outside, upper part of your arm. Depending on your physical condition, the pain may increase while you are sleeping and decrease during the day. If left untreated, the pain will continue and even increase over time.
- Limited range of motion. Rotator cuff tears make it hard to move your arm and shoulder in a normal manner. It hurts to lift your arm to brush your hair, clean your teeth, and get dressed. It is both painful and difficult to lift your arm up over your head, to stretch your arm out, and to steer a car. Your motion can even be limited when carrying small things, such as a plate or a book, at raised levels. Backpacks and shoulder bags can be very painful on the sore shoulder area.
- Tenderness and Stiffness. Your arm and shoulder can become tender and even swell as a result of your tear. If you try not to use your arm because of the discomfort, it can become stiff and decrease your range of motion. It is common to feel popping motions and to hear clicking or snapping noises when you move the sore shoulder area.
Types of Torn Rotator Cuff
Rotator cuff tears can be partial or complete. A partial rotator cuff tear means that the muscles and tendons have not become completely separated from the bone. A complete rotator cuff tear means that the injury has gone through the tendon. This means that the tendon has separated from the bone and will not heal by itself.
Many times, physical therapy is an effective first line of care for torn rotator cuffs. If you suffer from a nagging issue, visit our office for a consultation with one of our world-class physical therapists.