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Signs of a Rotator Cuff Tear

woman with shoulder painMillions of people seek a doctor’s care each year for a rotator cuff tear, which is a common cause of pain and disability.

In this blog, Dr. Ather Mirza and Dr. Justin Mirza, Long Island-based orthopedic physicians at Mirza Orthopedics, help you recognize the signs of a rotator cuff tear.

What is a rotator cuff tear?

This injury affects the group of four muscles and tendons that let you lift and rotate your arms. They also help stabilize your shoulder joint.

The tear can be partial (also called incomplete) or complete (also called full thickness), depending on whether the tendon on the top of your shoulder is damaged but not completely torn or if it’s completely torn all the way through or off the bone.

What are the causes of this injury?

It has two main causes – one that occurs suddenly and one that happens slowly over time:

Acute tear

This type of tear can happen suddenly if you fall down on your outstretched arm or lift something heavy with improper technique.

Degenerative or chronic tear

This injury happens as your tendon wears down slowly over time. It can occur because of the following reasons:

  • Repetitive motion: Stressing the rotator cuff muscles and tendons by repeating the same motions frequently can result in an injury. This is often seen in sports like tennis, baseball, or weightlifting, or jobs or routine chores like painting.
  • Lack of blood supply: The blood supply to your rotator cuff begins to diminish as you get older, making your body less able to repair damage.
  • Bone spurs: Bone can start growing on the underside of the highest point on your shoulder. Over time, these overgrowths (spurs) rub on your rotator cuff tendon and can cause a tear.

What are the signs of a rotator cuff tear?

This injury can cause the following symptoms:

  • Intense pain and a snapping feeling – common if your tear is caused by a sudden injury.
  • Weakness – when you lift or rotate your arm or try to lift things
  • Pain – when you raise or lower your arm in a particular way or lie on your arm while sleeping
  • Clicking or popping sound – when you move your arm
  • Pain that gets worse over time – when the injury is degenerative rather than due to a sudden event

What are the treatment options?

  • Rest – Continuing to use your arm may cause the tear to get larger. Your doctor may want you to limit activities that require your arm to be extended above your head and to also wear a sling.
  • Modifying your activities – You may be asked to avoid activities that stress your arm and shoulder.
  • Physical therapy – Exercises can help improve your flexibility and range of motion while strengthening the muscles that support your shoulder.
  • Steroid injection – While it’s not appropriate for all patients, a steroid injection can help reduce inflammation.
  • Surgery – Surgery is considered only after other forms of treatment haven’t sufficiently improved your pain and the function of your shoulder over time. It’s often a good option if your tear was caused by an injury.

If you’re experiencing signs that indicate you may have a rotator cuff injury, make an appointment today for a consultation with Mirza Orthopedics by calling (631) 361-5302. We’ll provide the most conservative treatment options that will relieve your pain and restore your shoulder’s range of motion.

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