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Shoulder Pain? A Rotator Cuff Injury Could be the Blame

Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Orthopedics | 0 comments

Patrick McGahan, M.D.

Patrick McGahan, M.D.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, in 2008 nearly two million people in the United States went to their doctors for rotator cuff difficulties. This includes rotator cuff tears, which make it difficult or even impossible to raise your arm over your shoulder.

“There are two types of rotator cuff tears—a partial tear and a full-thickness tear,” says orthopedic surgeon Patrick McGahan, M.D., with Sutter Orthopedic Institute. “The partial tear damages the soft tissue of the rotator cuff tendons, but doesn’t completely sever the tendon. A full-thickness tear, also called a complete tear, splits the rotator cuff tendon soft tissue completely into two.”

There are also two main causes of rotator cuff tears—injury to the rotator cuff and degeneration of the rotator cuff. An injury can stem from falling down on an outstretched arm or lifting a heavy object with a jerking motion. A degenerative tear is the result of the tendon slowly wearing down over the years. These types of rotator cuff tears usually affect the dominant arm.

According to Dr. McGahan there are several factors that contribute to degenerative rotator cuff tears. These include repetitive stress to the shoulder when the same motion is done over and over again. Also, as we age, our blood supply to the rotator cuff is lessened which impairs the body’s natural ability to repair tendon damage and can lead to a tendon tear. In addition, as we get older bone spurs often develop and the spurs rub on the rotator cuff tendon.

Some of the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear include pain when resting or at night, particularly when lying on the affected shoulder, pain when lifting or lowering your arm, weakness when lifting or rotating your arm or feeling a crackling sensation when you move your shoulder in certain positions.

If you have a rotator cuff tear and you continue to use your arm and shoulder you may cause further damage; rotator cuff tears can become larger over time. Therefore it’s good to see your doctor early to prevent your symptoms from getting worse.

Your goal for treating your rotator cuff injury is to reduce your pain and to restore your shoulder’s mobility. While there are several treatment options to consider, everyone is different and has different needs so you will choose the option that will best address your pain and shoulder function.

There are several nonsurgical and surgical treatment options for a rotator cuff tear.

None surgical treatments include:

• Rest. This means resting your shoulder muscles and limiting overhead activities. It can also include wearing a sling to keep your shoulder muscles still.

• Activity modification. This refers to ceasing activities that cause your shoulder to hurt.

• Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Taking ibuprofen and naproxen reduces pain and swelling.

• Strengthening exercises and physical therapy. Exercises and/or physical therapy will restore your shoulder’s movement and will strengthen the muscles supporting your shoulder.

• Steroid injection. An injection of a local anesthetic and a cortisone preparation may be helpful in relieving shoulder pain when rest, medications, exercise or physical therapy are not enough to alleviate the pain.

Surgical treatment options include:

• Open repair. This refers to a traditional open surgical incision, which might be required if the rotator cuff repair is large or complex.

• All-Arthroscopic Repair. Arthroscopic repair, which is less invasive, involves a small camera called an arthroscope, which is inserted into your shoulder joint to display images on a computer screen. The surgeon uses these images to perform the surgery through very small incisions.

Meet with your doctor to discuss and decide on the best treatment option for you.

For more information about rotator cuff treatment and repair, please visit

Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Orthopedics | 0 comments

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