Treating rotator cuff tears

Treating rotator cuff tears

Rotator cuff tears are a common source of shoulder pain and dysfunction, affecting millions of individuals worldwide. "Whether it stems from an injury, overuse, wear and tear, or natural aging, these tears can really affect how you move and your overall well-being," says Matthew D. Driscoll, MD, ARC Orthopedics shoulder, knee, and sports medicine specialist. "But the good news is, thanks to advancements in medicine, we've got a range of options to tackle this issue, from simpler approaches to more involved surgeries."

What is a rotator cuff tear?

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint, providing stability and facilitating movement. A tear in the rotator cuff occurs when one or more of these tendons become damaged or torn, either partially or completely. This injury can result from acute trauma, such as a fall or sudden impact, or from repetitive motions that strain the shoulder over time.

Diagnosing rotator cuff tears

Diagnosing a rotator cuff tear typically begins with a comprehensive physical examination by a healthcare professional. This may involve assessing the range of motion, strength, and stability of the shoulder joint. Imaging tests, such as x-rays, ultrasounds, or MRI scans, may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis and evaluate the extent of the tear.

Treatment options

Once a rotator cuff tear is diagnosed, the appropriate treatment plan can be determined based on factors such as the severity of the tear, the patient's age, activity level, and overall health. Treatment options generally fall into two categories: non-surgical and surgical interventions.

Non-surgical treatment: For patients with small or partial tears, non-surgical approaches may be sufficient to alleviate symptoms and restore function. These may include:

  • Rest and activity modification: Avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms and modifying daily routines to reduce strain on the shoulder.
  • Physical therapy: A tailored exercise program designed to strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, improve flexibility, and promote healing.
  • Pain management: Over-the-counter or prescription medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroid injections, to alleviate pain and inflammation.

Surgical treatment: In cases where conservative measures fail to provide relief or for larger, more severe tears, surgical intervention may be necessary. Surgical options may include:

  • Arthroscopic repair: A minimally invasive procedure performed using small incisions and a tiny camera (arthroscope) to repair the torn tendon(s) with sutures or anchors.
  • Open surgery: In some instances, particularly for complex tears or in patients with significant tissue damage, open surgery may be recommended to repair the rotator cuff.
  • Tendon transfer: In cases where the rotator cuff is irreparable, a tendon transfer procedure may be performed to restore function by repositioning a healthy tendon from another area of the body.

Read more about rotator cuff repair.

Recovering from surgery

Recovery from rotator cuff surgery can vary depending on the type and extent of the procedure, as well as individual factors such as age and overall health. However, most patients can expect a period of rehabilitation to regain strength, mobility, and function in the shoulder. This typically involves:

  • Physical therapy: A structured rehabilitation program focused on restoring range of motion, strengthening the shoulder muscles, and gradually reintroducing activities.
  • Pain management: Medications and other modalities to manage post-operative pain and discomfort.
  • Gradual return to activity: Following the guidance of healthcare providers, gradually reintroducing activities and avoiding overexertion to prevent re-injury.

Rotator cuff tears can be a source of pain and impairment, but with prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment, many individuals can experience significant improvement in symptoms and function. "If you're experiencing shoulder pain or suspect a rotator cuff tear, don't hesitate to seek evaluation and guidance from an orthopedic surgeon," says Dr. Driscoll. "Remember, early intervention can often lead to better outcomes and a quicker return to pain-free living."

Make an appointment today

With a patient-centered approach, ARC Orthopedics prioritizes open communication, personalized treatment plans, and ongoing support to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients of all ages.

Take the first step towards a healthier you and schedule an appointment today. Dr. Driscoll has a Fellowship in Orthopedic Sports Medicine and Arthroscopy from Southern California Orthopedic Institute. He provides orthopedic services to patients of all ages at three locations: ARC Medical Park Tower Orthopedics in Austin, ARC Cedar Park Building B, and ARC Round Rock.

Make an appointment through ARC MyChart or ARC Help Me Book or by calling one of the above clinics directly.

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