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Rotator Cuff Tear

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. These muscles and tendons hold the arm in its joint. They also help the shoulder to rotate. The rotator cuff can be torn from overuse or injury. Gradual wear and tear can lead to inflammation of these tendons. This can progress to gradual or sudden tears.

Symptoms of a torn rotator cuff include:

  • Shoulder pain that gets worse when you raise your arm overhead

  • Weakness of the shoulder muscles with overhead activity

  • Popping and clicking when you move your shoulder

  • Shoulder pain that wakes you up at night when sleeping on the hurt shoulder

Diagnosis is made by an MRI or arthroscopy. This is a surgical procedure to look inside the joint through a small tube. Partial rotator cuff tears can be treated by first resting, then strengthening the rotator cuff muscles.

Anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are useful. A limited number of steroid injections can be given. Surgery may be recommended for complete tears and partial tears that do not respond to medical treatment.

Home care

  • Avoid activities that make your pain worse. This includes overhead activities, doing the same motion over and over, and heavy lifting.

  • You may use over-the-counter pain medicines to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines.

  • If you were given a sling, use it for comfort. After your pain decreases, don’t keep your arm in the sling all the time. Take your arm out several times a day and move the shoulder joint, as you are able.

  • Your healthcare provider may recommend gentle pendulum exercises. Stand or sit with your arm vertical and close to your side. Relax your shoulder muscles and gently swing the arm forward and back, side to side, and in small circles for about 5 minutes. Do this once or twice a day. There should be only slight pain with this exercise.

  • You may benefit from physical therapy or a home exercise program to strengthen your shoulder muscles. This will also increase your pain-free range of motion. Applying heat prior to exercises can help prepare the muscles and joint for activity. Talk to your healthcare provider about what is best for your condition.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of the following occur:

  • Increasing shoulder pain

  • Rapid swelling in the involved shoulder or arm

  • Numbness, tingling, or pain radiating down the arm to the hand

  • Loss of strength in the affected arm

 

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