Around two million adults have rotator cuff tears each year, making it a very common injury. The patients who come to Orthocenter with rotator cuff tears usually fall into two camps: those who have wear-and-tear injuries, and those who have acute, or suddenly occurring, injuries. In either case, our doctors can diagnose and provide treatment for this common injury.
What is a rotator cuff?
Your shoulder joint is a ball-and-socket joint. It’s so mobile because, unlike your hip joint, the socket part is very shallow. The top of your arm bone, or humerus, sits in a shallow depression where your shoulder blade (scapula) and collarbone (clavicle) come together.
A group of four tendons and muscles hold your humerus in place in the shallow socket. Those muscle groups form a “cuff” over the humerus, and are collectively called your rotator cuff.
How does a rotator cuff tear?
As we mentioned earlier, most rotator cuff tears happen either slowly, over time, or suddenly as in a fall. The slowly occurring type of injury is called a degenerative tear, and the sudden type is an acute tear.
As we age, our tendons become weaker. It happens so gradually most people don’t notice any kind of change. If you happen to have a job or hobby that requires you to make the same motion with your shoulder over and over, such as being a painter or enjoying tennis, you have a greater risk of a degenerative rotator cuff tear.
Acute rotator cuff tears can happen during a fall, or when you pick up something too heavy with a jerking motion. Often, acute rotator cuff tears involve other injuries such as a dislocated shoulder, sprained wrist, or broken collar bone.
Signs of a torn rotator cuff
With an acute tear, you probably know right away that you’ve got an injured shoulder. Degenerative tears may be harder to recognize. Here are some signs to watch for:
1. You feel pain when you’re resting
Either when you’re just relaxing, or at night when you go to bed, you may notice pain in your shoulder. It’s likely especially pronounced when you lay on the affected side.
2. Pain with specific movements
Does it hurt every time you put on your shirt? Or maybe when you wash your hair, or reach for something off the top shelf of a cabinet?
Pain that happens each time you lift or lower your arm in a specific movement could be a sign of a rotator cuff tear.
3. Feeling weak
If it feels difficult to raise your arm, or you worry about dropping something when you rotate your arm, it could be a symptom of a rotator cuff tear.
4. A crackling feeling
Sometimes, a person with a torn rotator cuff describes a crackling feeling when they move their shoulder a certain way. The medical name for this symptom is crepitus.
5. The pain is intensifying
A degenerative tear can get worse over time, so the pain may worsen as well. You may notice a little tenderness or weakness, take an over-the-counter pain reliever and go on with life. But, over time, the pain can increase in intensity and not be relieved by taking something.
If your shoulder hurts, schedule an appointment at one of the convenient locations of Orthocenter. Even if you haven’t done anything likely to have caused an injury, get an exam to avoid a potentially worse injury.