Don’t Shoulder The Burden Of A Rotator Cuff Tear

Most people will experience shoulder pain at some point in life. The muscles and bones in the shoulder come into play when lifting, climbing, and throwing, so injuries are possible. With age and degeneration, shoulder pain can feel inevitable. Statistics show that shoulder pain accounts for at least 16% of all musculoskeletal concerns. While some cases can easily be treated with rest, other injuries may require more intensive treatment. Shoulder pain due to a rotator cuff tear, for example, can be debilitating and hinder daily activities. In such cases, individuals suffering from this kind of shoulder pain should explore various treatment options, from conservative to surgical.


Is it a rotator cuff tear or something else?

Since the shoulder is so complex, there are many triggers to chronic joint pain, including overuse, injury, inflammation, and underlying medical conditions. In some cases, the rotator cuff can tear, which happens when tendons in the shoulder are damaged or torn. As a result, individuals may experience pain, weakness, and limited range of motion (ROM) in the affected shoulder. A sudden popping or clicking sensation when lifting or moving can also occur in the affected arm. If these symptoms persist and increase in intensity, seek medical attention, as the condition may worsen.

The diagnosis matters

Individuals who suspect shoulder pain is due to a rotator cuff tear should visit an orthopedic specialist or a sports medicine doctor. Different injuries and conditions can often imitate a rotator cuff tear. Therefore, to diagnose the condition, the specialist will perform a physical examination and ask the patient about medical history. Imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, can confirm if the rotator cuff is torn and determine the severity. After diagnosis, the doctor will present the treatment options to the patient.

Non-surgical treatments

In almost all cases, surgical intervention is not necessary. Instead, the healthcare specialist will recommend non-surgical approaches such as medications for pain and inflammation, as well as corticosteroid injections to minimize swelling. Physical therapy (PT) and strengthening exercises may also be part of the treatment plan to improve muscle function and shoulder stability. The shoulder will be placed in a sling or brace to restrict movement and promote healing. When well-managed, mild to moderate rotator cuff tears can heal with time. However, in severe cases, or if conservative treatments are not enough to provide relief to the patient, surgery may be necessary.

Stepping into surgery

The surgeon will consider arthroscopic or open repair to address the rotator cuff tear. Arthroscopic repair is a minimally invasive procedure that involves inserting a small camera and specialized instruments through tiny incisions to repair torn tendons. On the other hand, open repair involves making a larger incision to directly access and repair the torn tendons. Each surgical option has advantages and considerations. However, most doctors prefer arthroscopic surgery due to smaller scars, less blood loss, and fewer complications. Minimally invasive surgery (MIS) like arthroscopic repair also promotes a faster return to activities, which is essential for some people, like athletes.

Which treatment is best?

The severity of the tear, the age and overall health of the patient, and the patient’s functional goals will determine the best treatment. Most tears can heal with a combination of non-surgical treatments performed consistently over several months. In the case of complete tears or other complications, surgery is an effective tool. Ultimately, the decision about the best treatment option for a rotator cuff tear should be made in consultation with a doctor.

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