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Rotator Cuff Tear

Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment
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At Hand to Shoulder Center of Wisconsin, our orthopedic specialists understand torn rotator cuffs and the problems and pain these shoulder injuries can cause. From explaining the symptoms and diagnosing a torn rotator cuff to performing both non-surgical and surgical treatment options, our team can help. Contact us today for more information.

Torn Rotator Cuff

The shoulder is a complex and sophisticated joint. Its complex structure allows for full range of motion to the arms and hands permitting lifting and extending motions to the upper extremities. The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body but it is also one of the most potentially unstable joints making it vulnerable to injuries and problems, such as a torn rotator cuff.

The shoulder is made up of three bones; the scapula (shoulder blade), the humerus (upper arm bone), and the clavicle (collarbone); all are surrounded by a number of muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

The rotator cuff is formed by the tendons of four muscles (supraspinatus, infraspinatus, subscapularis, and teres minor) positioned around the shoulder joint. The muscles and tendons blend together to form what is known as the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff tendons attach to the humerus providing range of motion and stability to the shoulder.

A rotator cuff injury can occur in the tendon rather than the muscles and may happen during a trauma, such as a fall or accident, or in a lifting movement. Often they occur slowly without an identifiable injury. Depending on the degree of injury, a rotator cuff tear can be a classified as small/medium, large, and massive. Regarding the depth of the rotator cuff tear, it is referred to as either “partial” or “full thickness”.

Symptoms of Torn Rotator Cuff

Damage or injury to the rotator cuff tendon causes discomfort and pain to the shoulder region. For a minor and partial rotator cuff tear, moderate pain may be felt over the front and outer part of the shoulder. Common everyday use of the shoulder and arm may be painful, however, a normal range of motion can be achieved. With certain positions such as reaching or overhead work, shoulder pain may intensify.

Torn rotator cuff symptoms can range from moderate to extreme pain, weakness of the shoulder and arm, to clicking and catching sensations with movement. In some cases, a complete rupture of the rotator cuff makes it impossible to lift the arm.

Torn Rotator Cuff Diagnosis and Treatment

At Hand to Shoulder Center of Wisconsin, a thorough medical examination is performed by a hand and upper extremity (wrist, elbow, and shoulder) fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeon. Health history is discussed; prior shoulder and arm injuries, genetic medical conditions along with how the shoulders have been used is carefully explored. A physical and visual examination by the physician is completed on the shoulder.

X-rays and/or a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan may be ordered to determine the degree of the injury/tear. 

Non-surgical and Surgical Treatment

Rehabilitation is a vital part of rotator cuff tear recovery. A physical or occupational therapist will work with you on a hands-on treatment plan to aid in the strengthening and healing process of a partially torn rotator cuff (Fig 1-3). The rotator cuff exercises will emphasize improving range of motion in the shoulder and nearby joints and muscles. Strengthening exercises help retrain and control the shoulder enabling you to move more smoothly during your daily activities. Torn rotator cuff rehabilitation can typically take 6-8 weeks or more.

Strengthening and healing exercises are performed by a licensed therapist

Figure 1: Strengthening and healing exercises are performed by a licensed therapist

Strengthening and healing exercises are performed by a licensed therapist

Figure 2: Strengthening and healing exercises are performed by a licensed therapist

Strengthening and healing exercises are performed by a licensed therapist

Figure 3: Strengthening and healing exercises are performed by a licensed therapist

In more severe cases, rotator cuff surgery is needed to repair the damaged tendon to regain optimal function of the shoulder. Any associated bone spurs or damage is also evaluated and addressed at the same time. 

All seven of our orthopedic surgeons perform surgery at Woodland Surgery Center, adjacent to Hand to Shoulder Center of Wisconsin and the three local Fox Valley hospitals.

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