Rotator cuff tears are a common cause of shoulder pain and weakness. When you have a tear of your rotator cuff you will notice pain with many activities of daily living such as combing your hair, lifting objects and sleeping. There are four muscles that make up your rotator cuff. They act in unison to lift and rotate the shoulder joint. They also function to stabilize the bones of the shoulder joint. The rotator cuff muscles can be injured acutely after an injury to the shoulder such as a fall onto the shoulder or they can be injured chronically. When the rotator cuff is injured chronically the symptoms progress as the fraying and damage to the rotator cuff progresses with everyday use and activity. Rotator cuff tears can either be partial tears of the muscle/tendon or they can be complete tears of the muscle/tendon.
When you see your doctor in the office he/she will evaluate the range of motion and strength in your shoulder and this will allow them to determine what the next best step. Sometimes after examining your shoulder they may request you have an MRI or US to get a better idea of whether you have a partial or full thickness tear of your rotator cuff. Once it is determined you have a partial or full thickness rotator cuff tear they can be treated either nonsurgically or surgically. If nonsurgical treatment is selected this usually involves a possible injections and physical therapy. If surgical treatment is selected it usually can be performed arthroscopically with minimal incisions. When arthroscopic treatment is performed it requires several small incisions about the shoulder to allow you doctor to insert a small surgical camera and surgical tools into your shoulder in order to visualize and your tear.
How do I know if I should treat my shoulder non-surgically or surgically?
This is a decision you will make with your doctor. Your doctor often times will recommend trying a nonsurgical approach first to include physical therapy and an injection. However, there are times where surgery may be the preferred depending on the size and chronicity of the tear.
After surgery how long am I in a sling?
After surgery to repair your rotator cuff you are usually in a sling for 6 weeks to allow the repair to heal. After 6 weeks in sling you will usually start physical therapy to first start working on range motion at the shoulder then progress to strength exercises.