What are rotator cuff tears?
A rotator cuff tear is one of the most common shoulder injuries. The rotator cuff tendons play a key role in lifting and rotating our arm, and even slight tears can cause problems. Injuries to these tendons can happen through a variety of different sports, with high impact or overuse being the most common culprits of tears.
What causes a rotator cuff tear?
Rotator cuff tendons are often injured during a high impact fall on the shoulder, which happens during sports such as cycling or skiing. They also commonly occur among athletes that frequently use force when throwing, such as cricket or baseball. They can even happen in the gym when lifting heavy weights or during intense stretching. Learning how to exercise your shoulder is vital in avoiding these injuries, and athletes with properly trained shoulders and appropriate throwing techniques can often avoid them.
What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear?
Most often it causes severe pain in the shoulder, that radiates
(shoots) towards the neck and hand. The pain is typically severe at night
so you cannot sleep or lie on the injured shoulder. Instability and weakness are also common symptoms, especially when
lifting the injured arm forwards, to the side, and when bringing your hand
behind your head or back.
Typically, the symptoms make it difficult or impossible to carry on with sporting activities or exercise that involve use of the injured shoulder.
How is a rotator cuff tear diagnosed?
A rotator cuff tear is generally diagnosed through a clinical examination and a scan (such as an Ultrasound or MRI), which may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
What are the treatment options for a rotator cuff tear?
A rotator cuff tear can often be treated by a specialist shoulder surgeon, depending on the size of the tear, the activity levels and the symptoms experienced by the patient. Rotator cuff tears may be able to be treated with physiotherapy or joint injections, but are most commonly treated using a minimally invasive surgical technique such as arthroscopic (keyhole) rotator cuff repair.
Your treatment will be tailored to your specific needs following a consultation with your specialist. Young and active patients with pain that are diagnosed with complete (full thickness) rotator cuff tears, are most often treated with an operation. However, elderly patients that don’t play sports, experience pain and can’t recall sustaining an injury, can often be treated with physiotherapy alone.