What Is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Picture of a man holding his shoulder in pain.

The shoulder joint is surrounded by a group of muscles and tendons collectively referred to as the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is responsible for keeping the top of the upper arm bone (the humerus) within the shoulder socket, and if it tears, it can lead to pain and various other unpleasant symptoms.

Rotator Cuff Tear Causes

In many cases, a rotator cuff tear can be a degenerative condition caused by years of wear and tear. In other instances, a rotator cuff can be torn during a sudden traumatic injury. For example, someone may tear their rotator cuff while lifting a heavy object or if they fall onto their outstretched arm. 

Rotator Cuff Tear Risk Factors

Some of the risk factors that can increase a person’s chances of developing a rotator cuff tear include:

  • Advanced age – The risk of experiencing a torn rotator cuff increases with age, with this injury being most common among individuals over the age of 60.
  • Repetitive overhead motions – If a person’s job or hobby requires them to lift heavy objects or repeatedly perform overhead movements—for example, the motions used while painting houses or performing carpentry—they may be at a higher risk for tearing their rotator cuff.
  • Genetics – Researchers are still working to determine how genetics can make someone more predisposed to sustaining a rotator cuff tear, but studies show that this injury occurs more commonly within certain families.

It must be noted that it’s still possible to tear a rotator cuff even without having any known risk factors for the injury. Likewise, many people have multiple risk factors and never sustain a rotator cuff tear.

Rotator Cuff Tear Symptoms

As was mentioned above, a rotator cuff tear can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms, one of the most common being pain. Many people describe this pain as being a dull ache located deep within the shoulder, and it’s often severe enough to impede sleep. This pain tends to worsen when the arm is raised away from the body.

Other potential rotator cuff tear symptoms include a grinding or crackling sensation (crepitus), arm weakness, and decreased range of motion. Plus, if a rotator cuff tears suddenly, it could cause a snapping sensation when it’s torn.

Rotator Cuff Tear Treatment

It’s important to not delay seeking treatment for a rotator cuff tear, since failing to treat this injury could cause permanent weakness and loss of motion, as well as additional issues with the shoulder joint. Rotator cuff tear treatment may include:

  • Medication
  • Cold therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercises designed to increase strength and flexibility
  • Periodic rest

In more severe cases, surgery may be needed to reattach or replace a torn tendon, or to replace the entire shoulder joint.

Fellowship-Trained Physicians Treating Patients Near You

If you’re in Durham, NC, or the surrounding area, you can turn to North Carolina Orthopaedic Clinic for rotator cuff tear treatment. We’re a trusted orthopedic provider that’s been serving this community since 2003, and all of the physicians on our team have completed fellowship training (with some having completed multiple fellowships). We take a specialized approach to treatment, and you can trust that our shoulder experts have the training and experience needed to effectively treat your rotator cuff tear. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.