Raleigh Hand to Shoulder Center in Raleigh, NC

Rotator Cuff Tear article by Raleigh Hand to Shoulder Center physician

What is a rotator cuff tear?

A rotator cuff tear is an injury to the group of tendons/muscles that surround the shoulder joint called the rotator cuff where the tendon typically becomes torn away from the bone.  The rotator cuff is made up of the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis and teres minor muscles and their tendinous attachment to the humerus (the arm bone). These muscles function to stabilize the shoulder and help control shoulder motion.

What are the signs of a rotator cuff tear?

A rotator cuff tear often results in a painful shoulder, particularly when trying to lift the shoulder overhead.  A larger tear can result in weakness or the inability to lift the arm overhead. The pain often is located in the shoulder and radiates down the arm partway toward the elbow.  Trouble sleeping on the affected shoulder is common.

What causes a rotator cuff tear?

A rotator cuff tear can be caused by an injury (traumatic) such as a shoulder dislocation or from a fall, or from gradual wear and tear (the most common).  Rotator cuff tears typically occur in adults and are less common in children. Repetitive overhead use of the arm over a long period of time is thought to be the most common cause of the wear and tear type of rotator cuff tear.  

What are the treatment options?

The treatment depends on the severity of the tear.  An MRI is often ordered to evaluate the problem and help determine the severity of the tear.  Most small/partial tears of the rotator cuff can successfully be treated without surgery. Often a regimen of rest, anti-inflammatories, therapy exercises, and/or corticosteroid injection can treat a small or partial rotator cuff tear.  A large tear where the tendon is pulled away from the bone would require surgery in order to repair this type of rotator cuff tear. The surgery is typically performed arthroscopically with small incisions in a minimally-invasive approach by the physicians at the Raleigh Hand to Shoulder Center.  An open surgical approach is another option for treating rotator cuff tears.

If you have signs or symptoms of a rotator cuff tear feel free to call our office to schedule an appointment with one of our fellowship trained Orthopedic hand and upper extremity surgeons that specialize in both the non-surgical and surgical treatments of shoulder pathology.


article by Dr George Edwards III

Video by American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons


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