The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles in the upper arm that stabilize the shoulder joint so that you can move your arms, lift, push, and pull. The shoulder is a unique and complex joint that is more susceptible to strains and tears than other joints.
In most rotator cuff tears, the muscle partially or fully tears away from the bone. Rotator cuff tears won’t heal on their own. You’ll need rotator cuff repair to restore your shoulder joint.
A shoulder surgeon is the perfect physician to see for rotator cuff injuries. Board-certified orthopedic shoulder and sports medicine surgeon Matthew Pifer, MD, has extensive experience repairing rotator cuff tears.
Surgery isn’t always necessary for a rotator cuff tear, but you will need some form of treatment to restore the shoulder. Let’s discuss rotator cuff tears and how we treat them.
Rotator cuff overview
The rotator cuff keeps the shoulder stable. It’s made up of four muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. They attach around the head of the upper arm bone. These four muscles include:
- Infraspinatus: Positioned behind the shoulder joint, this muscle aids in external arm rotation (think throwing a ball).
- Supraspinatus: Forming the upper border of the rotator cuff, this muscle enables you to move your arm away from your body.
- Subscapularis: Located on the front of the shoulder, this muscle helps rotate the arm toward the body.
- Teres Minor: This muscle helps with external rotation.
The rotator cuff allows for a lot of flexibility. Unfortunately, this flexibility makes the shoulder more vulnerable to damage.
Types of rotator cuff tears
There are two primary types of rotator cuff tears:
- Partial: With an incomplete rotator cuff tear, the tendon is still attached to some extent to the upper arm bone.
- Complete: With a complete rotator cuff tear, the tendon separates completely from the bone.
Rotator cuff tears are common, especially as you age, and the shoulder undergoes normal wear-and-tear. While many rotator cuff tears are due to age-related deterioration, people who engage in certain sports are also at a higher risk of rotator cuff injuries. Sports that involve repetitive overhead movements such as baseball, softball, swimming, tennis, and volleyball increase the likelihood of shoulder injury.
Will a rotator cuff tear heal on its own?
In most cases, a rotator cuff tear will not heal on its own. If your pain and other symptoms persist despite conservative treatment such as steroid injections and physical therapy, it’s time to speak with a shoulder specialist.
Surgical repair is often necessary to restore shoulder function and relieve pain. Surgery is often recommended for active individuals who want to return to their active lifestyle. Surgical repair is also vital for athletes who want to return to sport.
Rotator cuff repair
If you're ready to seek treatment for your shoulder symptoms, a skilled orthopedic surgeon like Dr. Pifer can point you in the right direction. He can correctly diagnose your injury and recommend the best treatment option for you.
For a comprehensive shoulder evaluation, contact our Santa Barbara, California office to schedule a consultation with Dr. Pifer.