Whether you’re trying to throw a baseball or reaching into an overhead cabinet for a can, a rotator cuff tear can force you to sit out your game or cook something different.

Some two to four million people suffer rotator cuff problems each year, and anyone who’s suffered a tear can attest that its discomfort can be life-altering.

Board-certified orthopedic surgeon Dr. Struan Coleman has valuable experience treating professional athletes’ rotator cuff injuries, including serving as head team physician for the New York Mets for over a decade.

Dr. Coleman and his team offer wide-ranging services for many conditions, and offer only the most evidence-based treatments. They also take ample time to get to know their patients, whom they consider their partners in care.

The makeup and purpose of the rotator cuff

Your rotator cuff is composed of the tendons and muscles in your shoulder. It allows you to lift objects and to push your arms away from your body, like when you stir a pot or reach above your head to grab something. Your rotator cuff serves another important role: It keeps the ball portion (humerus) of your ball-and-socket shoulder joint in its socket.

What is a rotator cuff tear, and why does it happen?

There are two types of rotator cuff tears:

A partial rotator cuff tear, or incomplete tear, happens when your tendon frays and pulls away from your bone. It sustains damage, but isn’t completely separated from your bone.

If you suffer a complete or full-thickness rotator cuff tear, your tendon is completely severed from your bone.

Dr. Coleman’s patients’ rotator cuff tears are most frequently caused by one of four things:

1. Job-related activities

Manual laborers, like carpenters who perform repetitive physical tasks, or health care workers who routinely lift patients, are more prone to rotator cuff tears.

2. Sports overuse

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a workout devotee, you’re more likely to suffer a rotator cuff tear due to repetitive motions related to athletic activities, like pitching a baseball or lifting weights over and over.

3. Injury

Many people tear their rotator cuffs as a result of a fall. They either fall directly on their shoulder or extend their arm as a natural protective gesture while falling.

4. Age-related degeneration

Unfortunately, your risk for tearing your rotator cuff increases as you get older, and wear-and-tear intensifies from age 40 on.

Torn rotator cuff symptoms include shoulder pain even while resting, being unable to fully rotate or raise and lower your arm without pain, shoulder weakness, and even audible snaps or pops when you move your shoulder.

Tears that develop slowly over time with wear-and-tear present more subtle symptoms, while symptoms are more immediate if you have a traumatic injury like a fall.

Diverse treatments for rotator cuff tears

Neglecting to seek treatment for a torn rotator cuff can lead to worsening pain, and if it’s a full-thickness tear, an almost complete inability to move your shoulder.

Noninvasive tear treatments include NSAIDS (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), rest, steroid injections, and physical therapy.

Dr. Coleman might suggest minimally invasive shoulder arthroscopy surgery if noninvasive approaches are unsuccessful in healing your partial tear, or if you have a complete tear.

Unlike open surgery, this two-part procedure involves Dr. Coleman making only a few small “keyhole” incisions in your shoulder area. He’s then able to put a thin tube equipped with a tiny fiber-optic camera — known as an arthroscope — through one or more of the incisions and closely examines your injury.

Through this observation, Dr. Coleman determines the tasks he needs to complete to make a repair. These may include:

  • Removing pieces of tendon, bone, or bursa (fluid-filled sacs that reduce joint friction)
  • Removing bone spurs or shaving bone away to ease compression problems
  • Reattaching your tendon to the top of your humerus if you have a complete tear

Minimally invasive surgery offers quite a few advantages over traditional methods, as it’s associated with faster healing, less scarring and bleeding, and reduced pain.

As you recover, you need to wear a compression garment or bandages and refrain from doing anything too taxing for a few weeks. Physical therapy is also important. It advances your healing, decreases your pain, strengthens you, and enhances your flexibility. PT also helps restore complete range of motion to your arm. Dr. Coleman monitors you throughout your entire healing phase as well.

Living with the considerable pain and limitations of a torn rotator cuff isn’t something you should do for long. Call the office that’s most convenient to you to schedule a consultation with Dr. Coleman, or reach out to us through our website.

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