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A rotator cuff tear is a tear in your shoulder tendons. Four muscles come together as tendons in your shoulder to keep your upper arm bone in your shoulder socket. When your rotator cuff is torn, it usually weakens your shoulder. This means that many daily activities, like combing your hair or getting dressed, may become painful and difficult to do.

Symptoms of a Torn Rotator Cuff

The symptoms of rotator cuff tear are:

  • Difficulty doing daily activities with your arm and shoulder and
  • pain in your shoulder that wakes you up from sleep.

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Types of Rotator Cuff Disease

Rotator cuff tears can either be acute (an injury) or degenerative (wearing down with time). If you fall on an outstretched arm or lift something too heavy, you can tear your rotator cuff. Tears to the rotator cuff can be:

  • partial-thickness,
  • full-thickness, and
  • or complete tears.

A tear can also occur with other shoulder injuries, such as a broken collarbone or dislocated shoulder.

Degenerative Rotator Cuff Tears

A degenerative rotator cuff tear can be cause by repetitive sports activities, like:

  • baseball,
  • tennis,
  • rowing, and
  • weightlifting.

Also, over time, bone spurs can develop on the underside of the acromion bone (the hook off of the scapula). Bone spurs rub on the rotator cuff tendon when arms are lifted, and over time the tendon can weaken and become more likely to tear.

Treatment for Rotator Cuff Pain & Injuries

Treatment for a rotator tear depends on your individual needs. If you don’t do activities that require you to heavily use your shoulders, you and your doctor may decide that surgery is not for you. If you have surgery, a full recovery will take several months and could even take up to a year based on how complex the repair was and your own personal needs.

Rotator Cuff Repair

A rotator cuff repair is a surgery that reattaches your rotator cuff tendon to the upper arm bone (humerus). Our goal with the repair is to reduce the pain in your shoulder by restoring normal shoulder function and anatomy.

Recovery From Rotator Cuff Repair

After rotator cuff repair, you will not be able to use your shoulder much for the first three to eight weeks. Your shoulder will be stiff and may feel uncomfortable. Sleeping and resting might be more comfortable if you are propped up in bed or sleep on a recliner.

You will also need to use a sling for the first 4–6+ weeks after surgery to help protect your repair. Sleeping can remain uncomfortable or more difficult up to a few weeks or even months after surgery. You will be required to wear your sling for protection while sleeping.

Three to five times a day you may remove the sling to do simple hand, wrist, and elbow motions and some other simple home exercises, as directed by your surgeon, so that your other joints do not get stiff.

About four to six weeks after surgery, you will start formal physical therapy. This will help you strengthen your shoulder and regain a full range of movement.

When to See an Orthopedic Doctor

If you're suffering from shoulder or elbow pain, you may not know when it's appropriate to seek out a specialist for pain relief. Learn how to spot the signs of severe or prolonged pain that can't be remedied at home.

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