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Are You Suffering With These Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Are You Suffering With These Symptoms of a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Rotator cuff tears are painful shoulder injuries that occur when there’s damage to the rotator cuff — a collection of muscles and tendons that contribute to shoulder mobility and stability. While there are numerous techniques to treat a small rotator cuff tear, a significant tear usually requires surgery for a full recovery.

Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Matthew Pifer, MD specializes in minimally invasive shoulder surgery and has extensive experience performing rotator cuff repairs. 

Most rotator cuff tears are the result of a single incident, like a sports injury. Occasionally, a bone spur in the shoulder might cause a tear. Hobbies or sports that involve repeat shoulder movements, such as baseball, tennis, and construction work, raise the risk of rotator cuff injuries.

Telltale signs of a rotator cuff tear

Shoulder pain is one of the main signs of a rotator cuff tear, but there are other signs that make it more likely. Where in the shoulder the pain occurs and how your shoulder moves provide helpful clues to the source of your shoulder issues.

In rotator cuff injuries, the pain is felt at the front of the shoulder. Because the rotator cuff enables shoulder mobility and provides stability, problems in these areas suggest a rotator cuff tear. Patients with rotator cuff tears have trouble raising their arms and reaching behind them. When you try to make these movements, your pain may worsen.

Because the shoulder is unstable, patients often notice a popping or clicking sound in the shoulder when moving the arm. This happens when the rotator cuff is unable to keep the upper arm bone in the shoulder socket. 

Some individuals report pain all the way to their elbow because nerves from the rotator cuff flow down the arm. Here are the main signs that suggest you have a rotator cuff tear. 

Movement restriction

It will be difficult to move your arm and shoulder normally if the rotator cuff is torn. Simple tasks like brushing your hair, dressing, and cooking will be excruciatingly painful. You may find it challenging to carry even small objects due to the lack of range of motion. Reaching overhead is particularly problematic when the rotator cuff is torn. 

Shoulder stiffness

If your rotator cuff is injured, your shoulder will become painful and stiff. Your arm will become much more rigid if you stop moving it. You may feel like your shoulder is frozen at times. 

Shoulder weakness

Your shoulder can't hold as much weight as it usually can when your rotator cuff is damaged. Even something as small as a book may feel too heavy and your arm may become fatigued quickly. 

Repairing a rotator cuff

Dr. Pifer has experience repairing partial and full rotator cuff tears. The following are common approaches. 

Partial rotator cuff tear repair

When the rotator cuff tendon is ripped but hasn't completely separated from the underlying bone, a partial repair can restore mobility and relieve pain. Surgery typically involves removing a portion of the acromion bone, which is situated on the shoulder blade. 

The ragged ends of the torn tendon are smoothed, and the inflamed bursa sac is removed. Damaged ligaments are removed in the process. 

Full rotator cuff tear repair

If the tendon has entirely torn or is completely separated from the upper arm bone, a comprehensive rotator cuff repair procedure is required. Depending on the degree of the damage, there are a few different procedures to complete a full rotator cuff repair.

Dr. Pifer specializes in minimally invasive arthroscopic shoulder surgery. With arthroscopic surgery, small incisions are created in the shoulder's side and back, and Dr. Pifer removes any damage, such as bone spurs. He then reconnects the tendon to the humerus using suture anchors.

Only in cases of severe joint deterioration or serious injury is open surgery performed. Bone, cartilage, and tendons that have been injured are replaced using bone and tissue grafts from other parts of the body. The humerus bone's head is then used to reconnect the tendon.

Dr. Pifer may use mini open surgery, which involves making a wider incision than is necessary for arthroscopic surgery but doesn’t involve opening the entire shoulder joint or using grafts.

Rotator cuff tears are serious business. Not only is a rotator cuff tear unlikely to get better on its own, but left untreated, it can progress into a chronic issue that causes more problems down the line. 

Trust an experienced shoulder surgeon to provide exceptional shoulder care when you need it most. Give us a call to schedule a visit with Dr. Pifer at our Santa Barbara, California office. A team member can assist you in scheduling an in-person or telemedicine appointment with Dr. Pifer.

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