Around 2 million Americans with suspected rotator cuff injuries visit the doctor every year. If confirmed, a rotator cuff tear may or may not require surgical intervention. While surgery is usually needed for complete healing, you may be able to use conservative treatments to increase functionality and decrease pain, depending on the extent of the tear.
At CHOICE Pain & Rehabilitation Center, with multiple locations in Maryland, our board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists provide a wide range of treatments for shoulder injuries and other conditions. In this blog, our providers explain what a rotator cuff is, what the symptoms of a tear are, and whether or not these injuries can heal on their own.
Rotator cuff basics
If you don’t know much about the working anatomy of your shoulder, the term “rotator cuff” may seem vague. Basically, the head of your upper arm bone — the humerus, which runs from the shoulder to the elbow — fits into a shallow socket in your scapula (shoulder blade).
This joint is supported by muscles and tendons that wrap all the way around the bones and connect the scapula and humerus, forming a cuff that allows for a broad range of movement and rotation of the arm.
Symptoms of rotator cuff tears
Rotator cuff tears are common in athletes who use overhand throwing motions, such as tennis players, volley players, football players, and baseball pitchers. In older people, a tear can happen simply because lifelong wear and tear has weakened the cuff.
The most typical symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:
- A dull ache that emanates from deep inside your shoulder
- Pain that intensifies at night, especially if you lie on the affected side
- Muscle weakness whenever you lift the affected arm
- Problems with reaching over your head or behind you
- Crackling “sounds” and sensations upon rotating your arm at the shoulder
If the condition is due to wear and tear, the symptoms may not appear bad at first, but they may worsen over time. This is especially common with older individuals. An acute injury can cause intense and agonizing pain, and you might hear a “snap” sound when the cuff tears.
Treating rotator cuff tears
As mentioned earlier, rotator cuff tears generally don’t heal on their own and require surgery for complete healing. However, if you only have a partial tear, you may be able to increase functionality and decrease pain with nonsurgical treatments.
Nonsurgical treatments could include physical therapy, icing the joint, taking over-the-counter pain medication, undergoing strengthening and conditioning exercises, and getting joint injections. Around 80% of people who have a partial tear get better without surgical intervention.
If you have a full rotator cuff tear, this will definitely require surgery. Surgical options can range from arthroscopic surgery, which uses tiny incisions and tiny tools, to complete shoulder replacement surgery for completely torn and badly damaged rotator cuffs.
If you suffer a partial or full rotator cuff tear, we can help. Our providers can perform a thorough evaluation and discuss your next steps. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with CHOICE Pain & Rehabilitation Center today.
Our Maryland offices are located in Hyattsville, Gaithersburg, Lanham, Dundalk, Oxon Hill, Rosedale, and Olney, and we have two offices in Baltimore.