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Healing a Rotator Cuff Tear

A torn rotator cuff will weaken your shoulder making many daily activities, like brushing your hair or dressing, painful and difficult to perform.

Your arm is kept in your shoulder socket by your rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is a network of four muscles that come together as tendons to form a covering, attaching the humerus to the shoulder blade and helps to lift and rotate your arm.

If the tear occurs with injury you may experience acute pain, a snapping sensation, and weakness of the arm. A rotator cuff tear may get larger over time if left untreated or with repetitive use or a re-injury to the shoulder. It is common for patients with known rotator cuff injury to have intense pain and weakness following a minor injury. If you are aware you have a rotator cuff tear, then worsening pain and decreasing strength may mean the tear is getting larger.

When a tear occurs, there is frequently degeneration of the muscles around the arm and loss of motion of the shoulder. Exercise or physical therapy programs are necessary to regain strength and improvement of shoulder function

If you have injured your shoulder or have chronic shoulder and arm pain, it is best to see an orthopaedic surgeon. They can then make a diagnosis and begin treatment. The doctor may recommend an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to confirm the diagnosis.

Early diagnosis and treatment of a rotator cuff tear can avoid symptoms such as loss of strength and loss of motion from setting in.

If your primary physician has already made the diagnosis, an orthopaedic surgeon can review both surgical and nonsurgical options and begin treatment.

Many rotator cuff tears can be treated without surgery. Anti-inflammatory medication, injections, and physical therapy may all be beneficial in treating symptoms of a cuff tear. The goals of treatment are to alleviate pain and reestablish strength to the injured shoulder.

Even though most tears cannot heal on their own, decent function can often be achieved without surgery.

If you have persistent pain or weakness in your shoulder that does not improve with nonsurgical treatment, surgery may be recommended. Frequently, patients who may require surgery report pain at night and complications lifting and reaching with the injured arm. Ongoing symptoms despite several months of medication and limited use of the arm are often reported.

Surgery is also recommended in active individuals who use the arm for overhead work or sports such as; Pitchers, swimmers, tennis players, and laborers.

Even though surgery repairs the injury in the tendon, the muscles around the arm remain weakened, and a full effort at rehabilitation is necessary for the procedure to be successful. Complete rehabilitation after surgery may take several months.

Your orthopaedic surgeon can prescribe an appropriate program based on your needs and the findings at surgery.

Jacel Brooks, MD

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