Rotator cuff is the name given to four muscles and their tendons, which keep your arms in your shoulder sockets, allowing you to lift your arms and do day-to-day stuff like combing your hair, cutting vegetables etc.
The shoulder joint is a very important joint of the body and this is why any tear that happens in the rotator cuff can be devastating.
Tears can happen in rotator cuff due to a number of factors like injury and degeneration due to age. Tears that happen due to an injury to the shoulder are called acute. Degenerative tears are tears that happen due to degeneration of the tendon over time.
Common causes of degeneration are lack of proper blood circulation, which impedes the rotator cuff’s ability to repair itself. Repetitive stress is another cause where we stress the tendon by repeating the same shoulder motions again and again while playing games like tennis, cricket etc. and doing jobs that require us to extend our arms upwards a lot. Lifting heavy objects can also lead to tears.
Chronic shoulder and arm pain are good reasons for you to see your doctor. If you suffer from pain in your shoulder at rest, while sleeping on the affected shoulder or pain while lifting and lowering your arm, then there is no time to wait.
The doctor will do a physical examination by moving your arm in different directions. He may follow it up with X-rays and MRI to check how big the tear is in your rotator cuff.
Once confirmed that you indeed have a rotator cuff tear, your doctor will start the treatment. The goal of any treatment is to reduce pain and make your shoulder joint work properly again.
Nonsurgical treatments include rest, using of a sling to protect the shoulder and modifying your daily activities. This means you may not be able to do activities that cause shoulder pain. Your doctor can also prescribe pain and anti-inflammatory medicines. Strengthening and physical therapy bring up the rear of this type of treatment.
What you must remember is that nonsurgical treatment relieves pain and improves function in the shoulder, but does not improve shoulder strength. The size of your tear may also increase over time.
Surgery, which attaches the rotator cuff to your bone, is done if you suffer from continuous pain and symptoms over a year or so. If you have a large tear, conservative treatments will not work and surgery will have to be resorted to.
If you have been suffering from chronic shoulder or arm pain, waiting and watching is definitely not an option. You must consult an orthopedic surgeon at the earliest. Remember, if treatment is not started soon enough, your rotator cuff tear will get larger and will require only surgery.