Thursday, May 22, 2014

Rotator Cuff Tears

Rotator cuff tears are one of the most common injuries of the shoulder. The anatomy of the shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint made up of three bones: the humerus (upper arm bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and clavicle (collarbone). The rotator cuff is comprised of 4 muscles and keeps the arm in the shoulder socket and provides stability.
There are two main types of tears:

  1. Partial Tear
  2. Full Thickness or Complete Tear

Tears are primarily caused by acute injury or overuse. Acute tears are the result of injury, such as falling on an outstretched arm or lifting a heavy object. With acute injuries, it is not uncommon to see other injuries present as well. 

Tears caused by overuse or degeneration occur over time and can be the result of the following:

  •  Repetitive motion of the shoulder (i.e.  lifting, throwing, overhead work)
  • Blood supply – as we age, the blood supply to the rotator cuff tendon decreases leaving the rotator cuff more susceptible to injury
  • Shoulder impingement

Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:

  • Pain at rest and/or at night
  • Pain with lifting
  • Weakness
  • Cracking in the shoulder

Treatment of rotator cuff tears depends on the severity of the tear. Partial tears can often be treated non-surgically with physical therapy, rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medication. For full thickness tears, surgical intervention is recommended. Surgery is performed arthroscopically through a small incision in the shoulder. 

In surgical repair, bio-absorbable anchors are used to reattach the rotator cuff to its anatomically correct position. In our practice, we use a “double row” technique to reinforce the repair, reduce the risk of a repeat tear and enable healing. 

Some physicians recommend moving the shoulder immediately following surgery, however, we disagree. We recommend immobilizing the shoulder for approximately 3-4 weeks post-op. The Center for Special Surgery agrees and published an article on how immobilization following rotator cuff surgery leads to better healing. For a full overview, please see our previous post from August 2012. 

Rotator cuff tears are common and treatable. Early intervention in the case of degenerative tears can help prevent the need for surgical intervention. Advocare Orthopedic and Sports Medicine is here to help. Call to schedule your appointment: 973-300-1553 or follow us at