The thought of any sort of tear in your body is scary. But knowing what’s happening and what your doctor can do about it can help you understand what you’re up against and what your road to healing might look like.

What is a rotator cuff tear?

Rotator cuff tears are a common injury, especially in older adults. The rotator cuff itself is a group of four muscles that stabilizes the ball and socket of your shoulder joint. You might hear these muscles referred to as the SITS muscles, which stands for:

  • supraspinatus
  • infraspinatus
  • teres minor
  • subscapularis

A rotator cuff tear occurs when you have a tear in the body or tendon of one of these muscles. Tears can develop from an injury, like falling on your outstretched hand, or from degeneration. If your job requires you to consistently and frequently work the shoulder muscles, such as a construction job, you could experience a tear. Old age also falls under the degeneration category.

You’ll experience different symptoms based on which muscle you injured and how severe your injury is. The severity of the injury can range from microtears to complete tears. Tears from a sudden injury generally cause more intense pain.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • pain when lying on your injured shoulder
  • pain when lifting your arm or rotating at the shoulder joint
  • weakness in the injured arm
  • cracking or popping in certain positions

If you’ve been having any of these symptoms, we highly encourage you to contact a doctor and schedule an appointment.

What can I expect from an appointment?

Your doctor will likely start with the basics: asking about your symptoms, how long you’ve been experiencing them, and if you have an idea of what caused them. They will most likely do a physical exam to check your range of motion and look for any signs of inflammation or swelling.

There are many different motion tests that they can do but they usually involve reaching your arm behind or in front of you, or holding your arm out away from your body and seeing how far you can rotate it.

If they suspect you have a rotator cuff tear based on your pain levels and the movements you’re able to do, they may order an imaging test, like an MRI or ultrasound. These tests can help your doctor see the extent of the tear and determine the best treatment plan for you.

Final thoughts

If you’re experiencing shoulder pain, it’s important to seek medical help. A rotator cuff tear can lead to long-term damage if left untreated.

In the case that you do have a rotator cuff tear, don’t be nervous! There are many ways for your doctor to help you heal and depending on the extent of your injury, get you back to a full range of motion.

Dr. M. Daniel Hatch at Utah Shoulder has years of experience with shoulder injuries and he would be there for you every step of the way. If you’re worried that you might have a shoulder injury, please reach out to him today.