In a survey by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, during a one-year period nearly 2 million people visited a doctor due to a rotator cuff problem. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons located at the shoulder joint that helps you rotate and lift your arms. It’s called a “cuff” because it forms a sleeve-like enclosure around the top section of your upper arm, where the humerus bone meets your shoulder blade.
Injuries to your rotator cuff can range from slight inflammation following a minor strain, to tears of its muscles and tendons. When one or more of the rotator cuff tendons is torn, it no longer attaches to the bone, causing the shoulder joint to lose function, resulting in pain and swelling. In the majority of rotator cuff tears, the tendon is torn away from the bone.
The two primary types of rotator cuff tears are
- Partial tear, when only a part of the tendon is torn or frayed.
- Complete tear, when the tendon tissue is fully separated from the bone.
With such a prevalence of rotator cuff injuries, what are the symptoms to know if you have torn your rotator cuff?
Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear
The most common symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include:
- Snapping sensation followed by weakness in your arm – expect this after you have had an accident or incident affecting your shoulder area.
- Numbness and tingling in the affected arm.
- Limited shoulder movement – lift your arms to a “T” shape and have a friend try to gently push down both arms. If one arm has no resistance, chances are your rotator cuff is torn.
- Weakness when lifting or rotating your arm – do you like to swim, kayak, or lift weights? If you’re now finding it hard to carry your pocketbook or backpack, see your doctor for a rotator cuff tear.
- A crackling, grinding sensation (called crepitus) when performing certain shoulder or arm movements – that “snap, crackle, pop” is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Listen up!
- Pain and swelling at rest and during the night, particularly when you sleep on the affected side – depending on the side you sleep on, the pressure of your body at rest could impact the area even more, not allowing your shoulder to heal.
- Pain when you lift and lower your arm, or with specific movements – especially with repetitive motions such as lap swimming, driving stick shift, or painting a house.
- Pain that moves down your arm towards the wrist.
Occasionally, some rotator cuff tears are not painful and don’t cause symptoms. Don’t assume if your pain isn’t debilitating you have nothing to worry about; this could be the start of a slippery slope that could lead to chronic pain and invasive treatment.
Are you at Risk?
You know the symptoms, but perhaps you don’t swing a sledgehammer or haven’t played tennis in years. Are you at risk for a rotator cuff tear? Chances lean to “yes” if you are hard on your tendons for a long period of time. Like nearly anything that ages, our tendons start to degenerate with age, especially with repetitive motion or demanding occupations or hobbies.
You may also be at risk of a rotator cuff tear if you have been injured during a fall or while lifting heavy objects haphazardly or without support. Other injuries such as a dislocated shoulder or broken collarbone may cause a tear at the tendon.
If any of these symptoms or risk factors sounds too familiar, perhaps it is time to consult your doctor or orthopedic surgeon to determine if you have a rotator cuff injury.
If you live in the Plano area, Tarpon Orthopedics can help you regain the ability to move pain-free. We are experts in sports medicine, spine, and pain management, as well as joint replacement. Call (972) 596-1059 for a consultation today in our West Plano, North Plano, or Addison locations, or request an appointment online.