The rotator cuff is a supportive structure in the shoulder that helps keep the shoulder joint stable while supporting and promoting a normal range of motion. The cuff includes muscles and tendons that surround the joint and provide flexibility and strength. About 2 million people suffer from rotator cuff tears and injuries each year in the U.S.
Rotator cuff impingements occur when the rotator cuff muscles become pinched causing irritation and inflammation that can result in pain, stiffness and loss of mobility in the joint.
Rotator cuff tears can be acute and abrupt or they may occur over time, beginning with fraying of the tendons and muscles and eventually progressing to a partial or complete tear. Tears that occur over time as the result of a gradual breaking down of the tissues are often called degenerative tears. Tears may be caused by falling on the outstretched arm or lifting a very heavy load, from repetitive movements like lifting objects over the head or using the arms in a swinging motion, or from twisting. Sometimes, a bone spur in the shoulder joint can cause or contribute to a tear.
Rotator cuff disorders typically cause symptoms like:
Treatment begins with a thorough examination which may include diagnostic imaging to confirm the diagnosis, rule out other conditions and determine the extent of the injury. Once diagnosis is confirmed, treatment may include nonsurgical options like:
When these conservative approaches are not effective in relieving symptoms or when a tear is severe, surgery may be required to repair the injury.
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