Rotator Cuff Injury

What is a Rotator Cuff Injury?

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that helps your shoulder move and stay stable. (Tendons are thick cords of tissue that connect muscle to bones. Tissue is the material that helps support your body).

Rotator cuff injuries, or tears, are common. They usually happen from repeated overhead motions in jobs like painting or carpentry or sports like baseball or tennis. Sometimes falling on your hand or another injury can injure the rotator cuff. Rotator cuff injuries are more likely as you get older, because the tendons get worn down.

Some rotator cuff tears are not painful. Others are very painful.

What Are the Most Common Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Injury?

  • A dull ache deep in the shoulder.
  • Pain that’s worse when you:
    • Sleep, if you sleep lying on the shoulder with the tear.
    • Get dressed.
    • Comb or brush your hair.
  • Trouble reaching behind your back.
  • Weakness in the shoulder or arm.

What Are the Treatments for a Rotator Cuff Injury?

Treatment for a torn rotator cuff depends on your age and health, how bad the tear is, and how long you’ve had it.

Treatments include:

  • Rest, ice, and physical therapy.
    • Rest to let the shoulder heal.
    • Ice to reduce pain and swelling.
    • Physical therapy to improve the flexibility and strength of the muscles around the shoulder. This is usually the first treatment. It works for some people.
  • Pain medicines: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen:
    • NSAIDs like ibuprofen (e.g., Advil and Motrin) help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
    • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) relieves pain.
  • Injection of steroids into the shoulder to relieve pain and increase function. But this can also weaken the shoulder tendons.

If these treatments don’t work, you may need surgery. Types of surgery include:

  • Surgery to repair the tendons. The surgeon can often do arthroscopic tendon repair.  Done through a few small incisions, this minimally-invasive surgery helps you heal faster and with less pain.
  • Surgery to remove excess bone that’s irritating the rotator cuff. The surgeon can often do this using arthroscopy.
  • Surgery to replace the torn tendon if it can’t be repaired.
  • Shoulder replacement surgery for severe rotator cuff injuries, to replace all or part of the damaged shoulder joint with an artificial one.