Symptoms and Treatments for Torn Rotator Cuffs

The shoulder is one of the largest and most complex joints in our body.

The rotator cuff is an important structure within the shoulder, and it is comprised of a collection of muscles and tendons that support the joint and give it a wide range of motion. A torn rotator cuff is a relatively common injury that refers to a tear in one of the muscles or tendons.

What causes rotator cuff tears?

Rotator cuff tears are an injury that can occur for several reasons. It is most commonly associated with overuse and repetitive strain, and people who repeatedly perform overhead motions in their work or in their recreational time are more likely to develop a rotator cuff tear. This could include decorators, construction workers, tennis and baseball players. Over time, the repetitive motion being performed starts to damage the muscles and tendons in the rotator cuff, and eventually a tear can form.

In some cases, a rotator cuff tear may be the result of an accident or trauma, such as a car collision. In these instances, emergency medical care may be necessary.

Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear

Rotator cuff injuries are usually quite painful and can affect your ability to move your shoulder in certain ways. Some of the most common indicators that you have torn your rotator cuff include:

  • A dull ache felt deep in the shoulder
  • Inability to sleep, particularly if you are laying so that you put pressure on the effected shoulder
  • Weakness in the arm
  • Difficulty moving the arm in some directions. In particular, trying to comb your hair or reach behind your back.

To accurately diagnose your injury, we will perform a physical examination of your arm and shoulder. X-rays, ultrasound or even MRI scans may also be used to assess the extent of the damage to your rotator cuff.

Treating torn rotator cuffs

There are a range of treatment options for improving the symptoms associated with a torn rotator cuff. Initially, we might recommend that you try non-surgical solutions, such as heat/ice packs, pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications and steroid injections. Physical therapy can also help restore some of the movement in your shoulder.

Depending on the extent of your tear and the impact is has on your life, we may recommend that you consider a surgical repair. In small, minor tears this involves simply smoothing and trimming the damaged tissues. However, if you have a substantial tear in your rotator cuff, it may be necessary to suture the divided parts of the tendon together. This process can be done arthroscopically – a minimally invasive technique that requires a much smaller incision. This gives the patient benefits including:

  • Lower risk of complications including post-operative infection
  • Less bleeding
  • Less post-operative pain
  • Less scarring
  • Faster recovery time

​​​​​​​At New York Spine and Sports Surgery, we will be able to make a recommendation as to which procedure is needed and whether or not you are a good candidate for surgery. Following surgery, a physical therapy plan will support you as you heal and enable you to regain strength, control and range of motion in your arm.