A torn rotator cuff tendon weakens the shoulder and makes many daily activities painful and difficult to do. When one or more of the rotator cuff tendons are torn, the tendon no longer is fully attached to the head of the humerus. There are different types of tears, a partial thickness tear (tear damages the soft tissue but does not completely tear it) or a full thickness tear or complete tear (basically means a hole in the tendon).
Rotator cuff tears can be considered acute (due to an injury/event) or degenerative (wearing down of the tendon slowly over time).
Most common symptoms include; pain at rest and at night, pain when lifting or lowering the arm, weakness and a cracking sensation when moving the shoulder in certain positions.
A rotator cuff tear can increase in size over time so early treatment can prevent symptoms from getting worse and assist in getting back to normal activities much quicker.
Non-surgical treatment can relieve pain and improve function in the shoulder, however strength does not usually improve without surgery. This line of treatment can include; rest, activity modification, anti-inflammatory medication, physiotherapy and steroid injections.
Surgical treatment may be recommended if pain does not improve with non-surgical measures, and also in patients who are very active. Surgery may be indicated in the following circumstances; symptoms lasted six to twelve months; significant weakness in the shoulder; tear caused by recent acute injury. The main aim of surgery is to re-attach the tendon to the head of the humerus. A rehabilitation program is essential in regaining shoulder strength and range of motion.
A complete recovery from rotator cuff surgery takes several months, with most patients having a functional range of motion and adequate strength by four to six months following surgery.