When you reach for a glass on the top shelf, thank your rotator cuff for helping you get there. Your rotator cuff is an essential part of your arm’s mobility. It’s a group of four muscles that come together to “cuff” over the top of your upper arm bone. These muscles allow you to move your shoulder and rotate your arm.
Just like the other parts of your body that get a lot of daily use, your rotator cuff is prone to injury and strain—especially as you get older. Injuries to the rotator cuff are often the result of torn muscles or tendons.
While these injuries can be painful, they may not always require surgery. Here’s how to know when surgery may be necessary for a torn rotator cuff.
How Do I Know if My Rotator Cuff is Torn?
The main symptom of a rotator cuff tear is pain in your front shoulder that radiates down your upper arm. It becomes more intense when you reach up to grab something or try to scratch an itch on your back. Your arm will probably feel very weak and it will be difficult to perform everyday tasks like brushing your hair or reaching over your head.
Depending on the level of pain, and the cause of the rotator cuff injury, you may or may not need surgery to fix it. Rotator cuff tears are very common as we get older, even if you’ve never experienced shoulder pain during your life.
Tears that happen as a result of aging are extremely normal and they likely don’t require surgery. It’s when your rotator cuff tears as a result of a serious injury that you’ll likely need surgery to fully recover.
When Does a Torn Rotator Cuff Require Surgery?
First things first: if you believe you may have torn your rotator cuff, it’s important to meet with your doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to recommend an orthopedic surgeon who can then prescribe an appropriate treatment plan.
If you are experiencing any of the following, I highly recommend getting it checked out by a professional:
- Persistent pain in the shoulder
- Weakness throughout the arm
- Difficulty/inability to use the arm to reach objects
- Pain at night
These symptoms are often indicative of a larger problem with the rotator cuff that may require surgery.
Typically, athletes or active adults who have experienced an acute injury will need surgery in order to completely heal from it—and return to the activity that may have caused or contributed to the injury.
What Kind of Surgery Will I Need?
This depends on the nature of your injury. Your surgeon will do some tests to figure out the severity of the tear. These may include X-rays, MRIs and ultrasounds.
There are different surgical options available, and the right one for you depends on what your surgeon sees during the surgery. It may require a simpler procedure to trim or smooth out the tear, or something that involves repairing the tear from side to side.
What are the Alternatives to Surgery?
If the tear is a result of aging, and not an acute injury, there are many ways to heal a torn rotator cuff.
A non-surgical treatment plan usually involves anti-inflammatory medication, steroid injections, and physical therapy. If these procedures do not prove effective, or if the pain continues to worsen, then surgery may be recommended.
Get Back in the Game with Wilson Shoulder
If you are experiencing severe shoulder pain, you should meet with an experienced shoulder doctor who will be able to prescribe an effective method of treatment.
My name is Dr. Wilson of Wilson Shoulder. I’m an orthopedic surgeon serving the Triangle region with years of experience helping patients recover from shoulder injuries. I believe that surgery should be a last resort, which is why I am dedicated to helping my patients find the treatment plan that works best for them. However, if you’re worried that you may need rotator cuff surgery in Raleigh, I’m here to help get you, and your rotator cuff, back to feeling 100%.
My team and I can help get you back in the game! Book an appointment online, or call us at 919-220-5255 to get started on your journey to recovery.