The rotator cuff is made up of muscles and tendons that connect the upper arm bone (humerus) to the shoulder blade. It allows the shoulder to lift and rotate, and helps to keep the shoulder joint stable.

Although rotator cuff tears can occur during a single injury (acute tears), most are related to degenerative causes (from wear and tear over time). The tear may be a partial thickness tear, in which part of the thick rotator cuff pulls away from its attachment to the bone, or a full thickness tear, in which the tendon pulls completely away from the bone.

Symptoms of a rotator cuff tear may be gradual and include:

  • Pain or tenderness in the shoulder joint
  • Pain when lifting the arm overhead
  • Pain when reaching behind your back
  • Clicking or catching of the shoulder joint
  • Loss of normal shoulder rotation
  • Shoulder weakness or stiffness

To diagnose a rotator cuff tear, a shoulder specialist at Lancaster Orthopedic Group will examine your shoulder, moving it in various directions to evaluate the range of motion, strength and overall function. The physician may also suggest an X-ray, an ultrasound scan, or an MRI to confirm the presence of a tear.

Conservative treatments for a rotator cuff tear include rest, ice, anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy or an occasional injection, and often lead to a full recovery.

If conservative treatments do not provide relief, surgery may be recommended. Depending on the size, shape and location of the tear, arthroscopic surgery is the most common method of repair. A large rotator cuff tear may require open surgery through a larger incision.