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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 and 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, which can progress to gradual or sudden tears.

Symptoms of a torn rotator cuff:

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

  • Weakness of the shoulder muscles with overhead activity

  • Popping and clicking with shoulder movement

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

Diagnosis is made by an MRI scan or arthroscopy (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 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:

  1. Avoid activities that make your pain worse - like overhead activities, doing the same motion over and over, and heavy lifting.

  2. Make an ice pack (ice in a plastic bag, wrapped in a towel) and apply over the injured area for 20 minutes every 1-2 hours for the first day. Continue with ice packs 3-4 times a day for the next two days. Continue using ice packs for pain relief if needed.

  3. You may use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. [NOTE: If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your doctor before using these medicines.]

  4. If a sling was provided, use it for comfort. After acute pain decreases, do not keep your arm in the sling all the time. Take it out several times a day and move the shoulder joint, as tolerated. You may benefit from physical therapy or a home exercise program to strengthen your shoulder muscles and increase your pain-free range of motion. Talk to your doctor about what is best for your condition.

Follow Up

with your doctor or as advised by our staff.

Get Prompt Medical Attention

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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