A rotator cuff tear is a common cause of pain, stiffness, and weakness in the shoulder. Sudden shoulder movements or overusing the shoulder can cause a tear, and the risk of tears increases with age – when the muscles and tendons naturally degenerate and weaken.
The rotator cuff is made up of a network of muscles and tendons which surround the shoulder joint to keep it secure. They form a “cuff” over the head of the humerus (upper arm bone), keeping it firmly in place in the shoulder socket. It controls and enables movement of the arm and shoulder.
Rotator cuff tears are very likely to occur in tennis players, baseball players, and swimmers, as well as hairdressers, construction workers, and painters. This injury can happen to anyone whose profession or leisure activities involve excessive overhead arm movements or heavy lifting.
Torn Rotator Cuff Treatments
The treatment you receive will depend on the severity of your shoulder injury. Your doctor will evaluate the integrity of your rotator cuff and advise you on the best course of treatment.
Usually, partial rotator cuff tears can be treated effectively with nonsurgical methods, including:
- Rest and limiting arm movements
- Applying ice regularly for 15- to 20-minute periods
- Over-the-counter or prescription medication to reduce pain and swelling
- Wearing a sling (this shouldn’t be worn for too long, as it can cause shoulder stiffness)
- Corticosteroid injections to reduce pain and inflammation if oral medications fail to work
- Physical and occupational therapy to restore strength and function
Rotator Cuff Repair Surgery
Surgery may be recommended for painful, acute tears, when nonsurgical treatments have not worked successfully. It may also be advised for athletes who must get back to the game quickly (and cannot wait for rest to alleviate the pain).
There are several types of surgeries that can be performed for rotator cuff tears; and the size, shape, and location of your tear will determine the type of surgery that is best for you. Many rotator cuff repair surgeries can be done as outpatient procedures and require either a general or local anesthetic.
Types of Shoulder Surgery for a Rotator Cuff Tear
Mild rotator cuff tears may only require a debridement procedure, in which the surgeon simply trims the tendon and removes the damaged tissue. For complex tears, the tendons may need to be reattached to the upper arm bone.
Sometimes an acromioplasty is performed at the same time as the repair surgery to remove bone spurs. These spurs may be causing friction or damage to the tendon during any movement of the shoulder.
Common approaches for rotator cuff repair surgery include arthroscopic repair and traditional open surgical repair:
An arthroscopy is a minimally invasive method that allows the surgeon to see, diagnose, and treat the shoulder injury using miniature surgical instruments and a fiber-optic viewing scope. The arthroscope enables the surgeon to view real-time magnified images on a video screen right there in the operating room.
Because shoulder arthroscopy is a less-invasive procedure than traditional open surgery, it poses less risk of infection during or after the surgery. It also usually means a shorter recovery period than open repair surgery, which requires much larger incisions and therefore more pain and more healing.
Traditional open surgical repair is done for larger or more complex rotator cuff tears, and it requires a larger incision than in arthroscopic surgery. The large deltoid muscle on the shoulder is moved aside to access the rotator cuff and carry out the surgery.
Experienced Shoulder Surgeons in Maryland
If you are experiencing shoulder pain and would like to find out more about the different treatment options available, contact our team at Greater Chesapeake Hand to Shoulder. Our medical specialists are dedicated to relieving your shoulder pain and movement limitations to help you get back to your normal activities, with less pain and more freedom to move your arm again.
To schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic physicians, call our Maryland shoulder surgeons today at (410) 296-6232 or request an appointment via our online form. We look forward to helping you reach without pain!