The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons in your shoulder that keeps it stable and allows the arm its lifting and rotating ability. The rotator cuff can tear partially or completely (also referred to as a full-thickness tear) due to injury, overuse, wear-and-tear, and tendon degeneration. A torn rotator cuff can be very painful. The pain symptoms are often felt in the front of the shoulder and radiate down the arm. Your ability to lift your arm, make overhead motions, and reach behind your back can be limited due to a torn rotator cuff.
A torn rotator cuff does not always need surgery. It may surprise you to know that most treatments are not focused on healing the tear itself, but actually improving the patient’s function.
Nonsurgical Treatment for a Torn Rotator Cuff
The goal of treating a torn rotator cuff is to relieve symptoms and help the patient regain shoulder function. In most cases, patients with rotator cuff tears can get better without surgery. Rest, anti-inflammatory medication, corticosteroid injections, and physical therapy can benefit patients with this injury. These treatment methods can relieve the symptoms of a torn rotator cuff and help the patient return to normal activities, but not heal the tear itself.
Studies show that physical therapy is effective in treating complete rotator cuff tears. By making the surrounding muscles strong enough, good shoulder function can be achieved. In other words, you can regain full function and use your arm and shoulder normally even with tears in your rotator cuff. Many people who have tears in their rotator cuffs from wear-and-tear are asymptomatic and experience no symptoms.
When Is Surgery Necessary?
Surgery is usually recommended to patients whose symptoms persist despite months of nonsurgical treatment. If the patient does not regain function of their shoulder after months of treatment, surgery may be recommended.
Another important consideration is the patient’s age. Younger patients with an acute rotator cuff tear from a traumatic injury may be recommended surgery. In addition to age, doctors also assess whether the patient relies on their shoulder for work or sports. Patients who do manual or physical labor or participate in professional sports may not have the luxury to wait it out. Treating rotator cuff tears conservatively involves limiting arm and shoulder movement, and the patient may want to get back to their job or sport sooner. Surgery is often considered to expedite the process.
The decision to have rotator cuff repair surgery is a personal one. If the symptoms interfere with your daily life even after using non-surgical treatments, it is very likely that the doctor will recommend surgery. If you do physical or manual labor or are an athlete, that too will influence the doctor’s recommendation.
Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment in Catonsville, Columbia, Eldersburg, and Fulton, MD
Our board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopaedic doctors at Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland will let you know what treatment options are best for you. We usually start with nonsurgical options (including a physical therapy program in our world-class rehabilitation center), which have a high satisfaction rate in our patients. If we do offer surgery for a torn rotator cuff, we will make sure you understand why we are making the recommendation.