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When is it time to repair my rotator cuff?

Orthopedics Primary Care
Young Man is holding his shoulder.

If you have a dull ache in the middle of your shoulder that also interferes with sleep, it may be time to see an orthopedic surgeon about repairing a torn rotator cuff. 

The rotator cuff is the group of muscles and tendons that wrap around the shoulder joint and stabilize it. They attach to the top of the arm (humerus) and hold the arm in its joint. People who perform overhead motions at work or in sports, like tennis or baseball, are most susceptible to rotator cuff tears. 

“Some rotator cuff tears happen due to a single event, but most of the time, the rotator cuff becomes damaged because of overuse,” says Paul B. McLendon, M.D., shoulder surgery specialist with Riverside Orthopedic Specialists. “The tendons get stressed over time and can tear from repetitive use, and the tear can become larger as you move your shoulder.”

What are the symptoms of a rotator cuff tear?

If shoulder pain has been bothering you a long time, your primary care physician will refer you to an orthopedic surgeon, such as Dr. McLendon, for evaluation. 

Other symptoms that may indicate a tear include:

  • Pain that disturbs sleep, particularly if you lie on the sore shoulder
  • Shoulder weakness
  • Loss of motion 

An orthopedic specialist will evaluate the extent of your injury. If an acute injury caused the tear, you may be a candidate for early surgical repair. 

Treatment for rotator cuff tears

Some tears can be treated without surgery, what we refer to as “conservative management.” This includes treatments like steroid injections, anti-inflammatory medications or physical therapy to strengthen surrounding muscles.

“If pain stays the same or worsens with nonsurgical methods – or you use your arm for overhead work or sports – surgery may be the best option,” Dr. McLendon says. 

Most rotator cuffs repairs are done through arthroscopic surgery. This procedure is the least invasive rotator cuff repair option.

A surgeon uses an arthroscope connected to a video monitor to view the inside of the shoulder. Then, several additional small incisions are made so that instruments can be inserted to fix the tear.

Our experts at Riverside Orthopedic Specialists offer a full range of orthopedic and sports medicine care. 

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