The rotator cuff involves muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder in place. However, the shoulder joint is moved frequently, and those who participate in sports are known to push the limits of their shoulder’s range of motion or repeatedly complete actions that use the rotator cuff, which can result in a tear.
Rotator Cuff Tears
Rotator cuff tears are some of the most common tendon injuries in adults, affecting more than 4.5 million people in the United States each year.
When there is a tear in the rotator cuff, the following symptoms may appear:
- difficult raising the arm
- pain when raising the arm
- a dull ache in the shoulder
- worsening shoulder pain at night
- arm weakness
If you experience these symptoms, it is important to see a doctor for a rotator cuff tear diagnosis so that you can begin treatment.
How to Diagnose a Rotator Cuff Tear
When you go to a doctor due to pain in the shoulder, they will start with a physical exam, checking for your range of motion, shoulder tenderness, and arm strength.
During this physical exam, your doctor may use one of more than 25 possible functional tests to help with a diagnosis. Some of these tests are used to diagnose rotator cuff injury, whereas others rule out other injuries that cause similar symptoms.
These diagnostic tests may involve reaching your arm behind your back, over your shoulder, or rotating the arm through a series of movements.
Different tests can also inform your doctor about which muscle in the rotator cuff has been injured.
The four muscles making up the rotator cuff are the:
- teres minor
Depending on the way the arm is moved/rotated, different muscles are used, and any difficulties can show that there is damage to that specific muscle.
If the diagnostic tests show a tear in the rotator cuff, your doctor will then discuss treatment options.
Rotator Cuff Imaging Diagnostic Tests
In some cases, your doctor may also order an imaging diagnostic test, such as an MRI or ultrasound (to check for tendon tears) or an X-ray (to look for bone spurs or arthritis). These diagnostic tests allow a doctor to see what is going on underneath the skin’s surface without having to invasively check.
Rotator cuff imaging diagnostic tests are also important in determining the extent of the tear (partial or complete). When the tear is partial, the tendon is still partially attached to the arm bone, whereas with a complete tear, the tendon is completely separated from the arm bone.
As expected, the treatment for a complete tear is likely to be more extensive than the treatment for a partial tear because the injury itself is more complex.
If you suspect you have injured your rotator cuff, it is crucial to see a doctor for a diagnosis to determine which part of the rotator cuff was injured and the extent of the injury. The doctors at San Diego Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center can help diagnose your rotator cuff tear and create a treatment plan based on the information obtained during a rotator cuff diagnostic test.