Rotator Cuff Tears & Injury - Diagnosis & Treatment

How is rotator cuff injury diagnosed?

To diagnose your injury, your doctor will need to:

  • Examine your medical history
  • Conduct a physical exam
  • Find out about your hobbies and work activities
  • Test your arm strength and range of motion
  • Recommend scans or X-rays to help identify abnormalities and tears.

As shoulder pain can also be caused by bone spurs rubbing against the tendon or arthritis, your doctor will need to rule these out before recommending the appropriate treatment.

How is rotator cuff injury treated?

Treatment varies according to the type of injury you have.

Non-surgical options

If you have a partial tear that is less than 5 mm in size, your injury should heal without surgery as long as you follow the correct rehabilitative exercises.

Your doctor may prescribe non-surgical treatment to relieve pain and improve shoulder function such as:

  • Resting and limiting overhead activities and activities that cause shoulder pain.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Strengthening exercises and physiotherapy to restore movement and strengthen your shoulder.
  • Steroid injections.

Surgical options

Your doctor may recommend repair surgery if the pain persists and does not improve with non-surgical methods, or if you actively use your arms for work or sports.

Depending on the type and extent of your injury, your doctor may perform one of these surgical procedures:

  • Arthroscopic tendon repair. The surgeon will make several small incisions and insert a small camera and tools to reattach the torn tendon to the bone.
  • Open tendon repair. The surgeon will make a larger incision to reattach the tendon for some injuries.
  • Tendon transfer. If the torn tendon is too damaged for reattachment, the surgeon may use tendons from a nearby area to replace the damaged tendon.
  • Shoulder replacement. The joint may need to be replaced if there are significant injuries to the rotator cuff and repair is not viable.

Recovering from rotator cuff injury

You will need to use a sling for 4 – 6 weeks after the surgery to allow the rotator cuff to heal.

Physiotherapy will be an important part of your recovery. You should do daily exercises and attend regular sessions with a physiotherapist to improve your shoulder strength and motion.

Most patients take about 6 months to resume normal activity.

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