Rotator Cuff Tear


What Is a Rotator Cuff Tear?

Your rotator cuff covers the top of your arm bone where it fits into the shoulder socket. Several tendons, which connect muscle to bone, make up your rotator cuff. When these connective tissues in the rotator cuff are damaged, lifting your arm can cause shoulder pain.

Rotator cuff tear is a very common injury, affecting over a million people nationwide every year. Types of torn rotator cuff include:

  • Partial tear: When just part of the tendon is torn, you have a partial tear.
  • Complete tear: This type of rotator cuff tear causes complete separation of the tendons from your shoulder socket.

Most rotator cuff injuries do not require surgery. However, a rotator cuff injury can get worse over time, making early treatment of shoulder pain important for preventing further damage.

At Aurora, we offer a range of advanced treatments depending on the severity of your injury – from rest and physical therapy to injections and shoulder surgery.

The Aurora Difference

The Rotator Cuff Experts

As one of the largest local health care providers in Wisconsin, we treat many people with shoulder injuries like rotator cuff tear. People choose Aurora Health Care because we provide:

  • Full-spectrum care: We provide a complete range of treatment options for torn rotator cuff, including physical therapy, injections and shoulder surgery. At Aurora, our experts work together across teams to make your treatment process seamless, too.
  • High surgical volume: Research shows that hospitals that treat a high number of patients have better surgery results with fewer complications. Our surgeons perform thousands of rotator cuff repair surgeries annually, giving us experience you can rely on.
  • Sports health expertise: Rotator cuff tears are common in athletes who repeatedly make overhead motions, like those who play throwing or racquet sports. Many of our orthopedists have specialized sports health training, making them experts at helping athletes and active adults regain function after sports-related injuries. Meet our sports health team.
  • Convenient diagnosis and treatment: Our many locations throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois make it easy to get care close to home. Many of our doctors also offer same-day appointments, so you can get the answers you need fast.

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Symptoms & Causes

Signs of a Rotator Cuff Tear

Shoulder pain, either at rest or with movement, is a key sign of rotator cuff tear. However, not all people with a torn rotator cuff experience shoulder pain.

Other symptoms include:

  • Weakness in your shoulder
  • Crepitus (joint popping) during shoulder movement
  • A popping sensation followed by shoulder weakness after a fall or injury

Causes of a Rotator Cuff Injury

Common causes of rotator cuff tear include:

  • Injury: A fall on an outstretched arm, heavy lifting or other shoulder injuries – like a dislocated shoulder – can damage the tendons in your shoulder, leading to rotator cuff tear.
  • Overuse: For many people, repetitive motions like painting or overhead lifting can damage the rotator cuff over time. Tennis, volleyball and baseball players are especially at risk because of the motions their sports require.
  • Bone spurs: In some cases, a bony growth called a bone spur on the shoulder can cause a rotator cuff tear. Bone spurs may be more common in people with arthritis.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Rotator Cuff Tests & Imaging

To diagnose your shoulder injury, your doctor will first examine your shoulder to see how far you can move it. Diagnosing a rotator cuff tear can also require additional tests, including:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This type of scan uses radio waves and magnets to create detailed images of your bones and connective tissues.
  • X-rays: An X-ray is an imaging procedure that provides images of your bones and internal structures. This test can help doctors see if a bone spur has caused the tear.

Learn more about orthopedic diagnosis.

Treating a Torn Rotator Cuff

Our orthopedic specialists start with the least invasive treatment methods, only recommending surgery when absolutely necessary. Treatments your doctor may recommend include:

  • Rest: Limiting shoulder activity can allow minor injuries time to heal on their own.
  • Medication: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil®) and naproxen (Aleve®), can help address swelling and shoulder pain.
  • Physical therapy: Certain exercises to improve strength and flexibility in your shoulder can help heal a rotator cuff tear. Learn more about orthopedic physical therapy at Aurora.
  • Injections: Periodic cortisone injections may help with shoulder pain if the above treatment options don’t work. Learn more about injections for joint pain.
  • Shoulder surgery: A large tear, or one that doesn’t heal with other types of treatment, may require surgery to reattach the tendon. Our orthopedists use minimally invasive arthroscopic surgery for rotator cuff repair. This type of surgery requires just a few small incisions, allowing you to recover faster with less scarring. Learn more about rotator cuff surgery. 

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