Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.
Rotator cuff injuries are some of the most common sports injuries in the United States; one estimate suggests there are more than three million U.S. cases per year, which would translate to about 56 cases per day in Houston alone!
What is the rotator cuff?
The rotator cuff is a group of muscle and tendons that meet around the shoulder joint, securing the shoulder in place and allowing a wide range of motions. When the rotator cuff is subjected to repetitive stress (such as pitching a baseball or swimming), tears and swelling may occur. The rotator cuff can also tear as the result of a sudden, acute injury.
Rotator cuff tears may be classified in one of two ways:
- “Partial tear” – damage to the soft tissue, but tendons are not completely severed.
- “Full-thickness tear” – the soft tissue separates into two pieces; typically tendons detach from the head of the humerus in full-thickness tears.
Rotator cuff tears may happen quickly (e.g. in a fall or sports injury), or they may be the result of wear-and-tear. Most rotator cuff tears, however, are characterized by gradual degeneration – not sudden injuries.
What are the symptoms of rotator cuff tear?
Symptoms of rotator cuff tear include:
- Pain or weakness when lifting/lowering the arm
- Pain at rest and at night
- A crackling sensation when the shoulder moves into certain positions
Sudden rotator cuff tears usually produce severe pain that prompts patients to get urgent care. The more common degenerative/gradual tears are the ones that patients are more likely to “learn to live with” and put off getting an evaluation.
How is a rotator cuff tear diagnosed?
Your Houston sports medicine physician may diagnose a rotator cuff tear by performing a physical exam, reviewing your medical history and ordering imaging tests (x-ray and/or MRI) to confirm the diagnosis.
How is a rotator cuff tear treated?
It is important to get treatment, as continued usage of the shoulder could cause the tear to become larger and the pain to worsen. Because there is no evidence that having surgery immediately after the injury results in any better outcomes, most patients are advised to pursue nonsurgical treatment first. At Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics, you may be advised to:
- Practice R.I.C.E.
- Use NSAIDs
- Undergo physical therapy
- Learn and implement strengthening exercises
- Avoid certain activities
- Have steroid injections
If nonsurgical methods are not resolving symptoms and/or you are very active, then your Houston sports medicine physician may recommend surgery. During rotator cuff surgery, the tendon is reattached to the upper arm bone.
Rotator Cuff Treatment: Houston Sports Medicine Doctor
If you are experiencing a shoulder injury, see your primary care provider or an urgent care clinic (if symptoms are severe). For advanced treatment, schedule an appointment with a Houston sports medicine physician online or by calling Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics at (713) 756-5546.
Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.